Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Star Power

The Sun makes life on Earth possible,yet the relationship between our planet and the star we revolve aroundis both so intricate and so all-pervasive that some of its aspects can easily be overlooked. Night and day,the seasons, the climate, the atmosphere, the tides: all these elemental facets of life on Earth reflect our dependance on the sun.

I am not saying that I want to get any closer to the sun that I have been in the past or even currently. Everyone knows that the sun likes me too much and leaves me a nasty burnt mess...I would like to experience/see solar flares. I will try to refrain from staring into the sun,but it is so tempting!

A solar flare amounts to a gigantic eruption of the ionized gases, or plasma, that make up the surface of the sun, where the daily forcast typically calls for 10,000 degrees F. Some solar flares are hundreds of thousands of miles long, so vast as to straddle the distance between the Earth and moon. Flares are only the most spectacular display of a process that is constantly taking place in the sun: the emission of charged, or ionized, particles from the star in the form of solar wind. When these particles reach Earth, they can light up polar skies in the form of auroras.

Solar flares, like the magnetic storms we call sunspots andall the other activity on the sun, peak in an 11 yr cycle,for reasons that arent known (yet). At such times, the sun's charged particles can play havoc with mankind's more advanced systems. In 1989, a massive solar flare disrupted Canada's power grid,shutting down some areas and putting all sorts of radio equip on the fritz. Homeowners in Toronto watched their garage doors opening and closing over and over again for no visible reason.... The utility company was not to blame...Old Sol was.

The nearest star may make life on earth possible, but as the Bible reminds us, the sun also fries us.

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