Image: Frederic Edwin Church's 1865 painting.

The Week the Sun Reached Out and Touched Us

The Carrington Flare happened at the last moment humanity could collectively appreciate it. /

Think first of the darkness. Consider your apprehension to leave your home, the lonely aura of violence that looms outside. If you lived in a city, perhaps it adopted gas street lamps—at least within the last generation—but “they didn’t so much light the way as provide distant points of brightness to aim for,” as Bill Bryson writes in At Home. Miles from urban areas, where you likely lived along with the majority of your countrymen and women, you looked up at the moon and up at the stars.

Inside, you potentially relied on a wad of meadow rushes dipped in animal fat and set on fire once nightfall came. Perhaps you burned dung or perpetually dripping tallow candles, or perhaps you spent your hard-earned money for the durability and longevity of beeswax. Perhaps you could afford the dim consistency of a gas lamp. Or perhaps you sat in darkness.

So many nights you had barely enough illumination to catch your family member’s eye at the dinner table. You let your pupils dilate and your eyes grow heavy. You slept—at least once, but maybe twice—until the sun returned. Fluorescent and LED bulbs did not artificially enhance and elongate your evening. Neither a backlit device nor a talking and glowing box kept you up long after your body indicated its fatigue. It was 20 years before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. It was 1859, and you could still appreciate the wonder that came in the last days of summer, the last days of winter.

It was the end of August, and something had happened to the sun.

“I have just been watching, with considerable interest, the first specimen that I have ever witnessed of the Southern Aurora,” the Sydney Observatory’s William Scott ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 40 / January 21, 2016
  1. Editor’s Note

    Issue 40: The best worst solar storm, hurricanes’ gifts, and a “spiritual Fitbit.” /

  2. Why I Thank God for Hurricanes

    The natural disasters don’t simply destroy life. They make the world a better place. /

  3. Inside the ‘Spiritual Fitbit’

    Can an app measure how close you feel to God? Can it get you closer? /

  4. Snowflake

    “Timing’s everything.” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 40: Links to amazing stuff.

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