Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Seven suns

kw: beauty, observations

It is rather easy to be up before sunrise this time of the year. Over the past week or so I observed the moon drift past Venus high in the morning sky as it waned toward New Moon yesterday. The moon was closest to Venus Friday morning (Dec 31), a fat crescent a couple of days past third quarter phase. I found the beauty of the sight overwhelming. It got me thinking about beauty in general. What is so beautiful about two bright lights in a black sky? Or a starry sky? Beauty seems to reside in contrast, but contrast of a certain type.

I think of paintings that use a very dark, low-key background with a strong highlight on the focal scene. Of course, the highlight draws the eye to what the painter wants you to notice. But the painting overall is more beautiful than one which is more evenly "lit". On the other hand, certain op-art, with its garish color contrasts, rarely seems beautiful to me. It certainly draws attention (I think of the multicolored LOVE emblem in Philadelphia), but I find overly strong color contrasts to be less compelling than strong brightness contrasts.

Then I got to thinking, is it possible to overdo a contrast in brightness? Is there a "sweet spot" of contrast, and overly bright brightness loses its beauty? I recalled an experience from thirty years ago in Irvine, California. At the time I worked for Fluor E&C, before it became Fluor Daniel. Their engineering center in Irvine contains three triangular pods, and one wall of each pod is curved. It is kind of like a propeller. The vertical walls are faced in glass that reflects 85% of the light. One of those curved walls faces East.

I was taking an early walk around the perimeter of the property with two colleagues. We noticed that the morning sunlight was being focused onto a spot on the grass, which looked very bright. I remembered the verse Isaiah 30:26, "The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the LORD binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted." I decided to find out what that might be like, seven-fold sunlight.

I went to stand in that spot. I remember counting seven reflected suns, and of course the sun was shining on my other side. For about a minute it felt really, really good, and seeing those multiple suns was amazingly beautiful. Then I got very hot and got out of there! We calculated later that the seven reflections, at 85%, constituted 5.95 suns, and the sun itself was one more, for just under seven total. Then we calculated the radiation balance (we were engineers, after all). Had I stayed in that spot long enough, I'd have been heated to 540°F, or over 280°C. Not quite conducive to long life. But for the moment the experience lasted, I found it quite beautiful!

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