FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Sun worshippers

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. It figures that I would put it off until the actual day of the solar eclipse.

Everything on earth is solar powered. It’s not just calculators and recently-erected roofs. Solar energy powers our entire lives, in one way or another. Solar energy is collected by plants, who not only produce food for us to eat but also oxygen for us to breathe. Solar energy creates heat which makes it possible for all life on the surface.

If you really get down to it, you can tie everything to solar energy. The uneven heating of the earth’s surface creates weather. Weather rearranges landmasses, increasing pressure on buried organic material, turning it into petroleum. Solar energy makes the oceans move, too.

In fact there is not one other source of energy that cannot be traced back to the sun. Coal? That’s just plant material that’s been buried and compressed, thanks to the effect of the sun. Nuclear? OK you kind of have me there but nuclear power plants use some conventional electricity to get started, and it takes traditional energy to mine the materials you need.

Everything traces back to the sun, our friend 93 million miles away, showering us with free energy 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Life is possible because of the sun, everything is possible because of the sun.

Where does the sun get its energy? After all we know that you can’t truly “create” energy in the universe. So the sun’s energy had to come from somewhere. The energy that we get from the sun is liberated by fusing together really light materials to make slightly heavier ones. This happens because of immense pressures in the sun’s center and the whole thing has such pressure because it’s so big… and it’s so big because over billions of years, smaller clumps of stuff have turned into bigger clumps, due to gravity.

But where did it all start? Of course we all know that the current theory is that one “big bang” set all of it in motion, creating all the forces and all the stuff and we’re all still coasting off that, billions of years later. What caused the big bang? That’s hard to know because that big bang destroyed all evidence of what came before.

But all that stuff… that’s going back an incredibly long time. For now what you need to know is that the sun, by fusing together hydrogen atoms into helium, liberates so much energy that even the tiny fraction that hits this planet is enough to sustain and nurture all life, create all weather, and essentially make everything happen.

And that, friends, is food for thought.