This burning orange and red and yellow and pink circle in the sky dictates so much in our lives. The sun is time. It is energy. It is warmth. It is seasons. It is our solar system’s greatest spectacle, rising and falling each day in a kind of perfect pattern that makes this asinine and complicated world we live in seem momentarily simple.
Even in its simplicity, the sky is a complicated, unpredictable place. Right now, a star named Betelgeuse, one of the brightest stars we know, is losing mass – indicating its collapsing. As it begins to fold in on itself, like all stars, Betelgeuse will go super-nova; the grand finale, the last supper, the final bang, the encore. It could happen tomorrow, or it could happen in 100,000 years. It’ll become brighter and bigger than it ever is, and it will light up the heavens. When that moment comes, here on earth, we won’t experience night time for nearly two weeks. Two suns will sit next to each other, peering oddly into the galaxy, magnified and huge to our eyes, a solar hiccup.
In the sky for nearly 4.57 billion years, the sun has brought heat waves and droughts, disappeared for winters and white outs, and burnt the skin of the earth’s outdoorsmen.
In another few billion years, the sun’s outer layers are going to expand and expand until they pop and shed like the skin of a snake. Once this happens, the core of the sun is going to contract and heat up and eventually our greatest and most important star will turn into a red giant, growing to nearly 250 times its current radius as it engulfs– and likely incinerates – the tiny little place we call earth.
But before any of this, the sun will rise and set countless times. It will come up from the east, slide over our heads and sail into a smooth landing on the west. It will seem as though the sun is moving around the earth. In reality, it will sit still, stoic, as we spin and whirl through its orbit.
Each time our planet makes this circle, hundreds and thousands and millions of people will watch adoringly from beaches, rooftops, rearview mirrors, office windows, mountain homes and deserts as the sun’s first rays appear and its final light dissipates. And each time, hundreds and thousands and millions of camera flashes will go. Hundreds and thousands and millions of moments will be born. Love will be shared. Stories will be told. Beers will be had. All under the watchful eye of that enormous, violently hot mega-star floating through thin air in a place man will never reach.
Despite its size, brightness and importance in our life, the sun is actually 92, 955, 820.5 miles away. Its distance has no bearing on its significance. Without question, it is the brightest and most important star in our sky.
Like all things or people that bring us warmth, losing this sun will be devastating. When it gets to close, before its final blast into being a weak white dwarf, the sun will roast us violently. It will boil the oceans of Earth like water in a teapot. It will destroy and cremate all that our planet has to offer. And then, quietly, it will fade. It will leave. Its distance will never seem so real, so true. What is left will become cold, hollow, and lifeless. The earth will start from ground zero. Our remains will be nothing but the fossils of ancient dinosaurs, the ruins of Egyptian pyramids.
But the sky is an unpredictable place, and the future has an unknowable outcome. We all have our own suns. We all have our own stars in the sky. Like warmth, simplicity, love, and moments, they will come. They will last. They will collapse. They will leave. And they will come again.