Staring at the Sun: A Sweaty Lesson in Science by Shea Dillon

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of my mental energy thinking about the Sun. Due to the summer heat it’s almost impossible for me to not constantly have our star in mind. I’m not trying to say I don’t appreciate all the Sun does for us, but there have been days where the blistering temperatures and my uphill bike ride home from school makes me fantasize about drowning it in some big-ass cosmic bucket. Sizzzllle. No more Sun.

But one day the sun will actually die! It’s a fact just about everyone knows, but it’s still an insane concept to me!

Like most of us, the sun’s worst enemy is itself. It’s blind consumption. Gluttony, undoubtably, will be the Sun’s downfall. The form it’s corpse will take is almost poetic.

As it converts the very last of the hydrogen in it’s core into helium around five billion years from now, the core will shrink until the density and temperature becomes intense enough to begin fusing helium into carbon and oxygen. These two elements, so important to life, will spell destruction for Earth, already completely sterilized by the Sun’s increasing temperature. The Sun’s outer layers billow outwards, red, angry, and hungry. A red giant. Mercury is consumed. The earth is baked drier than Arizona clay, the oceans evaporate.

For 150 million years the sun remains stable until there is no more helium to fuse in it’s core, now composed solely of carbon. The shell of hydrogen around the core ignites, providing fuel for the sun to burn hotter and brighter than ever before. The sun’s red halo flares more dramatically, Venus is converted back to the cosmic dust it arose from, and the Sun’s ribbon like trails of gas come close enough to lick the toes of mother Earth. This state is short lived, eventually the Sun converts all it’s fuel in a runaway reaction leaving behind it’s extremely hot carbon core. It becomes a white dwarf. The layers it shed blow through the solar system, potentially wiping out all the planets and leaving in it’s wake a shining veil of gas deemed a planetary nebula. Since the atoms that compose us arose from and return to the Earth, we too will contribute to this nebulae. The atoms in your toe nails, on the tip of your nose, in the threads of your favorite shirt will be scattered back into the interstellar medium from which they originate.

If any scrap of the Earth remains it will be bathed in dim blue light from our dying star. For billions of years our sun will float suspended like a hard white seed on black velvet, slowly cooling. As the last heat dissipates the carbon begins to solidify. It crystalizes into one of the most prized substances known to our world. Diamond. The corpse the sun leaves behind is a giant, perfect sphere of pure diamond.

The next time you’re sitting outside sipping a cold beer, the next time you’re splayed out across soft grass under a tree staring up through the stained glass leaves, the next time your head breaks the surface of the lake to send sparkling drops flying, shining in the light like beads of glass, remember. Remember to stop and really feel the perpetual, penetrating, sustaining, warm caress of the Sun. Realize billions of years from now this cosmic engine that drove the evolution of all organisms, the progression of the human race, and your very own life from birth until the moment you take your last breath will fade into a worthless hunk of “precious” stone.

[Shea Dillon is an uber-smart person who luckily was also made good looking and with refined taste in tattoos and freaky goth shit, like this necklace she gave to boyfriend Andy for his birthday. She is probably doing math as you read this in Athens, OH.]

Now, from our end of things, a series of songs in the order by which they got stuck in my head after reading Shea’s column:

Photo by John David Heeg. Used without his permission because he is kicking my ass at Words With Friends. 

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