21 December 2006

Solstice

I hope that my longtime readers will forgive me recycling last year's poetic scientistic meditation on the rim of the year.

There are four forces in the universe. Gravity bends the universe into its shape from end to end, attracts and never repels, but is by far the weakest of these forces. Electricity and magnetism, one and the same in the eye of the divine—attracting, repelling, and turning—is the second weakest force, far stronger than gravitation. This second force accounts for almost everything we know: the strength of stone, the flow of water, the kiss of wind, the source of fire's energy. Even light itself is a ripple in it.

In the heart of the Sun, the press of the Sun's enormous weight makes a world unlike anything we can touch. In the heart of the Sun, the hydrogen and helium we know as wisps lighter than air are a dozen times the density of lead—pressed until they are no longer gasses, nor even anything like the liquids or solids we know, but a plasma like a soupy flame.

In the heart of the Sun, there are not atoms but the hearts of atoms, nuclei rattling among the electrons which would cloak them on Earth, shoulder to shoulder but not bound together. The second weakest force in the universe tries to drive the nuclei apart from one another, while the weakest force presses them together, and the heat whirls them in a mad dance. In this unearthy mælstrom those nuclei collide. And then another force takes hold, one with far greater strength and far lesser reach then its two familiar sibilings, and it grafts the nuclei together.

A fire is powered by the release of energy bound in knots of the twins electricity-magnetism. So is your flesh. But the Sun is powered by the release of energy bound up in that far stronger force which circumscribes the nuclei. The strength of the hearts of atoms warms the heart of our Sun, and so warms us. When nuclei cleave together, energy escapes as a ripple of light. Thus the inconceivably thick plasma deep in the Sun is awash in light, which bounces and spins through it, so bright that it is no mere illumination but actually part of the substance and texture of that hidden world.

It takes time for a ray of light to wander to the Sun's surface, where it can finally live its destiny to soar unobstructed through the vacuum of space—and perhaps to come to rest on the world we know. The light you see today was born before anything human walked. It has been a long time coming.

Remember the Sun's gifts today.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

No apologizes for reposting! The Sun returns and so can this gorgeous writing.

A blessed Yule to you.