In Egypt it was a barge ferrying Ra and Horus. To the Vikings it was a chariot carrying the Goddess Sól. And in Chinese mythology it is the last of ten fiery brothers that flew to the sky to scorch the Earth.
Every society has looked up and sought to understand the Sun. The more we understand it, the more extraordinary we realise that it truly is. A vast, almost perfect sphere of hot plasma, it accounts for 99.86% of the total mass in our solar system.
This November, City of Physics brought a little sunlight to a dark Dublin evening.
The Solar Dynamic Observatory is in orbit far above us. It points its lenses constantly at the sun, something that no human eye can do safely. Every 12 seconds it takes a picture. And it has done so, since 2010.
These five years worth of images are freely available and represent a minuscule record of the history of the Sun, which has been putting on the greatest fireworks display in our solar system for four and a half billion years.
The movie we projected onto the streets of Dublin, was made from hundreds of still images taken by this satellite.
People have been recording solar activity since they marked and predicted solar eclipses in ancient Babylon, three and a half thousand years ago. The Chinese Book of Changes first noted the existence of what was probably a sunspot around 800CB, calling it a “darkening seen in the Sun”.
Within a few hundred years, we were recording sunspots regularly (even if we sometimes mistook them for planets in transit).
Things really got going in the 19th century. A series of discoveries were made, each one extraordinary in it’s own right, and each one building on the last until, eventually, we were using infra-red and ultraviolet light to observe the cosmos.
We called it Solar spectroscopy.
Today, we’re still building on the foundation laid during the Enlightenment, using ever more sophisticated telescopes, to photograph lights at incredible, invisible frequencies.
We're bringing the sun to the Great George's St, Dame St intersection on the 28th-30th October from dusk.
All you have to do is look up.
The clocks went back, November was coming in, but we brought the sun to darkening Dublin nights. Over three evenings, we projected a movie made from images take by the Solar Dynamics Observatory onto a wall at a busy Dublin intersection.
Thousands of people passed underneath the two story high projection. And when they stopped, we had a dozen students on hand to talk to them about what they were seeing: the different wavelengths of light that the movie had captured, the incredible temperatures and forces at play, and how coronal loops occurred.
That's what City of Physics is about; taking the time to stop, look and be astounded by the natural world.
Dr. Shane Bergin
DR JESSAMYN FAIRFIELD