Shining Star

Here is a remarkable image. It is the blazing surface of our Sun.

Each of the small granular regions in the picture is roughly the size of Texas. The Earth would fit comfortably within the large sunspot in the center.

Although they appear black in this image, sunspots are dazzlingly bright, as bright as lightning. It is only by contrast to the surrounding photosphere that they seem dark.

It is easy to look at such an image and marvel at it as an unusual and strangely beautiful visual phenomenon without making a deeper effort to establish a mental connection between our local context and what is being depicted here. Dwell for a moment on the scale of the scene in this photograph, both in relation to our Earth and to the Sun itself.

It is interesting that the picture can be taken in as somehow representing an object of comprehensible size.

“As above, so below.”

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  1. Andrew says

    HI Malcolm,

    Nice post. I have never been sure what to make of our ability to contemplate things that occur at such scales as to make it impossible to visualize them in any realistic way. Very large and very small numbers permeate science and it is easy to get numb to them. Time is a biggie. What the heck does it mean that our species has been around for 3,000,000 years? Add three more zeros and you are getting on towards the length of time we think life has existed on this planet. The writer John Mcphee coined the term ‘deep time’ to refer to these immense time scales. Easy to talk about, impossible to really understand.


    Posted October 11, 2005 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Andrew,

    It is also interesting that the appearance of objects at many scales has such a familiar form. The striated boundaries of the sunspots, for example, look very much like the iris of the eye.


    Posted October 14, 2005 at 11:35 am | Permalink