In the period around the summer solstice, the sun radiates its most powerful energy. But the seasonal ascendance of light and temperature is not -- despite popular belief -- due to our distance from the sun, but rather to the degree of directness of its rays.
It would be logical, on the face of it, to assume that in the smarmy summer the Earth approaches closest to the sun, and that we are furthest away in the cold, dark of winter. Not so. The Earth reaches its perihelion, the point on our orbit that brings us closest to the sun, in winter (this year it was on January 5); and conversely, during summer (July 5, 2012) we attain our aphelion, the furthest reach of our range from the sun.
Though the distance from the sun is greatest in the summer, it is around the summer solstice that the sun sits highest in the sky. The steep path of its rays is angled directly overhead. Vertical. Its energy aimed arrow like straight down on us. The summer solstice is the lightest, brightest, most brilliant summit of solar power. The peak, the potent pinnacle. The absolute apex of radiant energy extended toward us from our own shining star.
The sun, sparkling jewel of the celestial crown, is actually a youngish, smallish, rather unspectacular star. Half the age of the Milky Way, it was born out of a cloud of gas a mere five billion years ago. It grew quickly into its familiar attributes, and can be expected to enjoy a protracted middle age in a relatively unchanged state before the beginning of its eventual end.
Though not a Hollywood star among stars, our sun is just that -- ours. Of all the stars in all the galaxies it is at a distance of 93 million miles, our closest one. The one around which our world revolves. The light of our lives.
Insignificant-within-the-perspective-of-all-space as it may be, the sun, sovereign of our sky, seems spectacularly large to us. With a diameter of 864,000 miles, it is 109.5 times the size of Earth. That relationship is the same as if the Earth were scaled to pea-size and the sun were the size of a beach ball 130 feet away. The volume of the sun is 337,000 million million cubic miles, or 1,306,000 times that of Earth's. That's like what? A pea compared to a spaceship?
Even though its completely comprised of gas, it weighs two billion billion billion tons. Gravity on the surface of the sun is almost 28 times greater than here on Earth. If you could survive the intensity of a stroll on that astral oven, you would suddenly find yourself weighing two tons.
The chemical composition of the sun and the Earth are similar. However, there is no terrestrial comparison, our paltry attempts at nuclear combustion included, when it comes to producing power. Fathom this: The sun generates four hundred trillion trillion watts of energy every second. Enough energy to power 2,600 Earths, each one entirely filled with 200-watt light bulbs. Too many zeroes to try to comprehend.
The temperature at its core, the focal inferno, is speculated to be 25 million degrees Fahrenheit. The sun's surface churns, roils, boils away, stirring up 6,000-degree heat bubbles, each the size of Pennsylvania. Its many layered atmosphere surges to heights of 80,000 miles, and its corona reaches all the way to Mercury 36 million miles away like the dancing mane of a golden celestial lion.
The sun, strongest, most potent of super numinous powers, like any being, was born, lives, and shall one day die. In about five billion years it will start to expand, swell to become a red giant 166 times its present size. An inflatable hot air atomic oven that will radiate hugely increased heat. The ice caps on Earth will melt, the oceans will evaporate, the deserts prevail. Venus will sizzle and Mercury will be cooked to a crisp.
Ultimately that solar forge, that primary force, the source of all energy, will slip into gradual decline. Shrink down to what is called white dwarfdom, a cinder of its former fiery self, frizzled in its own furnace. Fifty billion years from now at its burnout, it will be a compressed black coal. Stone cold dead. And even after its demise, Earth, though vastly changed and devoid of life as we know it, will continue its adoring circle dance, ringing round the sun like a devoted bride at a Hassidic wedding.
If we celebrate the birth of the brand new sun and the return of the light at the winter solstice, we salute its vibrant expansive maturity at the solstice in the summer. We exalt in the sun's vital strength -- and our own -- even as we acknowledge its impending and inevitable loss of virility, fertility, and ultimate demise. Let us glory in that golden gift of heat and bright light -- while we can.
A Simple Summer Solstice Ceremony
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year. How long is that? Here is one to really experience it:
Join Donna Henes, Urban Shaman
for her 37th Annual Summer Soulstice Celebration.
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Sunset Solstice Ceremony
A sizzling Celebration of Summer. A family friendly event. Bring kids, dogs, drums, percussions, and plenty of rousing spirit.
Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, Queens
For info: 718-956-1819
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