We are getting closer to the sun
The sun is getting brighter and the days longer.
On Wednesday comes the Spring Equinox, marking the sun’s northward advance over our hemisphere and the promise of even more sunlight and warmth. Let there be life.
The sun had its first close-up recently, relayed in December by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft. The detailed view of a blazing solar streamer, a filament of hot plasma in the sun’s atmosphere, was shot from
14.9 million miles away from the sun, twice as close as any previous photograph.
Closer close-ups are coming. The probe is on a seven-year voyage that will reach 3.7 million miles from the sun’s surface to understand its many storms and why they’re so unpredictably hot–from 1.7 to 17 million degrees Fahrenheit.
There is nothing new under the sun, but there might be something new on it.
I find it odd that this unprecedented solar image hasn’t gone viral, appeared everywhere as a top story, providing a worldwide “aha” moment.
The Apollo 17’s 1972 photograph of earth, the “blue marble,” was an instant popular sensation, and now one of the most reproduced images ever. Shot from 17,000 miles away, it should be considered the world’s first selfie.
We have grown detached from the sun, on which our lives depend. Our primitive ancestors had a closer, more sophisticated appreciation of it. The sun was the preeminent — and often female — deity in early religions. Huge edifices, such as Stonehenge, Tulum, and Machu Picchu, served as observatories and sacred gathering places for communities.
So powerful, omnipresent, bright, hot, distant, huge, and all enveloping in its effect on our lives, the sun seems too big for our myopic vision, too vast to fit into our minds. We can’t see for looking.
To think about the sun requires more than thinking. The magnitudes of scale are so outside our experience that we have to yank the doors of perception off their hinges to grasp the sun’s immensity. As we reflect on the sun, we see ourselves reflected.
Directing our attention sunwards, we begin to see ourselves from the sun’s point of view. Here we are, tenuous, ephemeral, and tinier than atoms. Perhaps we fear what the sun reveals.
The surest way to reach the sun is the garden path, the solar runway. Sparked by lengthening days, gardens respond to the sun’s call. From March 20 on, we — and the earth we share — rise to the cosmic occasion.
Hibernating creatures stir in their winter residences, peeking outside to confirm the evidence of their circadian clocks.
Underground, root stems huff and puff as they push in the direction of greatest sunlight. Birds in chevron flight wing northward, back to the beckoning sun. Snowdrops, irises and crocuses flower and perfume the breeze.
Hummingbirds hum, bees buzz. Stems emerge from the warming soil; buds open and flower. Butterflies and bees gather pollen and nectar from radiant blossoms in a kaleidoscope of colors. Overhead, new leaves festoon the gravity-defying trees.
The garden is a nursery of life, the sun its doting mother —
93 million miles away. Fanciful? Take a look outside. The garden is the closest you can get to the sun.
George Ball is chairman and CEO, W. Atlee Burpee Company and past president, The American Horticultural Society, Washington, D.C.