The Power and the Beauty

The sky was a canvas of science and magic. 

For 53 years, I have dreamt of this sight: the night dancing in ribbons of light. And, finally, there I was, barely dressed, cold, and in tears on my deck, letting it consume me.  

The forecast had been promising, but it’s been promising so many times before. We’re just too far from the North Pole, and too thoughtless with our use of electricity. There’s little chance of seeing an aurora borealis in Connecticut.  

It had been a great day in many ways, an island of life’s simple joys. Basking in it, I was both sleepy and restless, and thought I’d calm my brain by checking the night sky. I was braced for disappointment, but Luna’s beautiful crescent was visible through the window, teasing clear skies overhead.  

I stepped out onto the cold, wet deck, regretted not wearing slippers, and let myself be annoyed at bright light low to the northeast. A high school athletic field there normally blots out the darkness.  

Then the light moved. 

Green, then orange. Then pink. Then purple. I struggled to make sense of why, though I knew. 

I tilted my head to look straight up, and lines of light shifted and twisted. 

Magic. Pure, breathtaking magic. 

But not. A tiny shield of gas and magnetism, smothering our tiny rock, in a dangerous neighborhood around a tiny star, was afire, protecting our irrelevant species from destruction on a scale we’ve never experienced in modernity. 

A collective joy rose online, as tens of millions of us shared photos. We stood together in the church of nature, awestruck by the mighty God that is the universe, so much more powerful than our missiles, bombs, and technology. So much greater than our petty squabbles, our endless discontent, our vain belief in our own influence. Or, as I write this, so much greater than meager words can or should even describe. But in vain we write about it, think about it, share our joy, and try to understand what we saw on May 10, 2024. We stood united in awe at the power and the beauty.  

Beauty in the science of the colors and movement that our eyes have adapted to see. 

Power that, with an inadvertent whim, would end modern civilization if just a tiny bit stronger. One of my favorite sayings about nature is, “The mountain doesn’t care about you.” Nor does the ocean. Or the sun. 

This morning, the storm on our star is visible to us as a massive rip, so much larger than our planet. In days, it will be gone, replaced by more turmoil on the sun’s surface, and all that will remain of it will be the memories created by fuses in our simple brains, which we’ll reconnect for the rest of our lives to share the story of this night. 

A moment so rare and precious that many of us will take our last breath never seeing something like it again.  

But while we could, we took in the night sky together, and we reveled in the majesty of it all. 

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