Friday, October 25, 2013

Golden opportunity

Molten gold.

That's all I could think of as my walk along the path this morning took me directly toward the rising Sun. Liquid metal pouring through the trees, flooding the meadow, spilling a screen of auric light on the line of oaks at my back. And then, the disk broke free of the trees, floated up like an incandescent balloon, and I could swear that I felt the force of its light pushing me backwards. I closed my eyes, spread my arms. The Earth rolled beneath my feet, dragging me sunward.

Starlight. Our star. Lucky old Sun, has nothin' to do, but roll around heaven all day. No wonder our ancestors worshiped the Sun. The wonder is that we gave up so natural and benign a religion for something more abstract, more morally ambiguous, an egomaniacal projection of ourselves.

You want revelation? Try this.

The solar spectrum. Cut out these horizontal strips and connect them end to end to form a long rainbow of colors, from deep red to violet. Apparently, Newton was the first one to pass sunlight through a prism and show that what appears to the eye as yellow is actually composed of all the colors of visible light -- something raindrops had been doing naturally for as long as there had been sunlight and rain. Did Newton see dark bands, missing colors? If so, he made no note of it. It was up to Wollaston and Fraunhofer, a century later, to notice the gaps in the spectrum.

We now know that the dense surface of the Sun emits a continuous rainbow of light. Cooler gases surrounding the Sun absorb certain wavelengths of light -- the very same wavelengths those elements emit when heated as a rarified gas on Earth. Every element has its unique "fingerprint."

The revealer -- sunlight. The revelation -- the composition of the Sun!

And what do we discover? That the Sun is made of the same stuff as the Earth. Hydrogen and helium, mostly. Oxygen. Carbon. Neon. Nitrogen. Iron. Magnesium. Silicon. We are related, the Sun and I. We share the sources of our substance. The Sun animates our lives.

As I walked toward the Sun this morning, I thought of molten gold. Is there gold in the Sun? Among those thousands of dark absorption lines can we sift out the spectrum of gold? Yes! If I had some way of extracting all the gold atoms from the Sun I'd be the richest person on Earth. I'd be richer than everyone else on Earth together. Never mind. I am already as rich as Croesus --

-- on the path at sunrise.