I’m interrupting the cosmology story to tell about a wonderful night with the sky.
Friday night (it was really Saturday at 1:30 a.m.) I was awake for some reason, possibly it was the strobing itself. I looked out the north window and saw a brilliant strobe in the northeastern sky. Since I already knew that the sun, long spotless, had recently had some dramatic sunspots, I wondered whether it might be an aurora. It didn’t seem like lightning, because it was so constant, flash, flash, flash — and the sky silent and full of stars.
I wakened my husband, and we both watched — the strobing was going on all across the eastern sky (should have been all across the northern sky, of course) and we wakened the rest of the house and went outside where we were treated to a beautiful show of light, something like an aurora in that it was silent, starry, and strobing from one end of the display to the other, again and again.
But as we climbed the hill south of the house, we were finally able to see over the trees, and there was, in fact, a long line of storm clouds, far to the east. We jumped in the car and drove out to a place where the cornfields didn’t obstruct our vision and watched for half an hour.
The line of storm clouds had to be 40 miles away, or more, thus accounting for the total silence and the locally brilliant stars. As I have said before, clouds low on the horizon do not stand above the landforms you see on the horizon. It was a fantastic display, and not the sort that lends itself to amateur photography, for it was the lighting of the entire horizon, strobe upon strobe, and then starting over again, that was so amazing.
As for the aurora, we have already had one, though it was locally cloudy and invisible. And yesterday, the main force of a coronal mass ejection just missed our little planet. (A coronal mass ejection, CME, is a spout of charged particles. It can be interesting and beautiful; it can damage electronics. Lots of possibilities.) Others solar regions are heating up and could eject so as to send material directly our way. If you want to read more about it, go to spaceweather.com and read what’s going on. You can even subscribe to a spaceweather phone service that will call you if there’s an aurora in your area.
Meantime, here’s an image of the sun that will challenge your concept of its plain surface. Things can look very different when wavelengths other than visible light are used!