Sunday, March 9, 2014

Do Look at the Sun

by Drew Martin
Huitzilopochtli, Malakbel, Shapash, Aryaman, Ra....pick a name from the hundreds of solar deities from world mythologies and you evoke some of the most powerful characters from the history of humans.

There is one mortal character from an urban legend (of the American Urban Mythology), let's call him Raymond, who takes LSD and decides to lay himself on a grassy knoll and bask in the warm sunlight of a hot summer day. He takes off his shirt to work on his tan, joins his hands behind his neck so that he can prop up his head, and stares at the sun. He is mesmerized and cannot take his eyes off the glowing ball of fire. As the legend goes, Raymond is permanently blinded because his pupils fuse together. We were told this legend countless times by our moms when we were little, and it was commonly shared with the other kids in the neighborhood because it is dangerous and blinding to look at the sun, and the command "Don't look at the sun!" needs a backup story.

At a local science fair yesterday I had an opportunity to look at the sun through a high-end telescope with a protective filter and was blown away. The telescope was fairly small but the image of the sun was very crisp, much clearer than the image pictured here, and it was living in the sense that you could see the movement of the arcs of fire flaring up from the surface. This setup was arranged by a local college, Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey. I have also been to their open-to-public observatory nights before, where you can see amazing views of Betelgeuse and other-worldly sights.