Solar Flares by MC
The Science Channel has a captivating episode on sunlight as part of its popular ‘How the Universe Works’ series. In continuing my frequent series of posts about the futility of the idea of ‘Now’, I find the content of this episode a perfect fit.
What we call sunlight and often luxuriate in it here on Earth is born in the nuclear furnace at the core of the sun in incomprehensible violence. As scientists interviewed for this particular episode point out, the sunlight we receive “now” was likely born at least 100,000 years ago and possibly even a million years ago.
Many of us are aware of the datedness of sunlight by a little over eight minutes, the time it takes to travel 92,955,807 miles or one astronomic unit (AU) to reach us. What we call now is at least eight minutes and 17 seconds old. It turns that is just the tip of the tip of the tip. Light is born at the core of the sun when atoms are fused under an absurdly high pressure created by 400,000 miles of the layers plasma, gas, fire and whatever else that goes on there.
This unimaginable process creates gamma ray photons, which in their pure form as they exist there are toxic. Essentially, they can cook life through radiation and eventually destroy it. These gamma ray photons would normally escape their source at the speed of light. Scientists say that were it not for the hundreds of thousands of miles of sun’s layers to slow them down these photons in their pure light form would take about a couple of seconds to escape into space. (Light travels at 186,000 miles a second). That does not happen because the hydrogen layer at the core of the sun is so dense because of the enormous pressure of 400,000 miles of material that it is becomes denser than lead. That in turn makes the escape for gamma ray photons a harrowing task, which is just as well.
Each gamma ray photons born thus—and there are hundreds of trillions of those taking birth every second—then have to cut through so much that in the process the gamma ray photon light gets transformed along the way, including first as X-ray, which is a lower form of energy. At one point soon after their birth the gamma ray photons have to deal with twelve and half million degrees Fahrenheit temperature that the plasma boils with. As it cuts through layers upon layers of material, individual photons can take between 100,000 to a million years to surface and then battle through the violence of the photosphere—the visible part that we call the sun—and then finally launch itself into space.
Those trillions and trillions of photons scatter around as light, some of which reach Earth eight minutes later. This morning when when I went on my weekly bike ride through a local forest preserve, I made it a point to remember that the light falling on me was created at least 100,000 years ago and possibly even a million years ago. That reminder brought a wide smile to my face which an oncoming fellow cyclist took to be a greeting. He smiled back saying, “Morning” and continued on his way. If light, born as toxic gamma ray photons as old as that can bring a smile or two hundreds of thousands of years later, then I say it’s all good.
It might be useful to remember that what we call morning now was born a very long time ago in the boiling belly of the sun when there was no human civilization as we know it.