Eclipse – Haiku by Kate Rauner

In the moon’s shadowSolar_eclipse_of_October_23_2014_sunset_Minneapolis_Ruen3
What I think I know grows dim
As night swalows day

Inspired by te 2014 partial solar eclipse. There was also a sunspot group visible without magnification. Note I didn’t say “to the naked eye.” Never stare at the sun. It’s not the eclipse that burns your eyes – it’s the sun, and the sun can harm your vision any day. I hope North Americans took the time to view the event through a solar filter or with a pinhole projection. I saw a 40% eclipse. That’s not enough to notice a drop in light levels or air temperatures. I bet most people didn’t even know anything was happening.

PS: I didn’t realize until days later that the big sunspot group was causing some people to freak out: solar flares erupting

Space Weather and Solophobia

space_weather_dialsHave you noticed reports from time to time (for example, here) warning of “huge expulsions of magnetic field and plasma” from the sun, perhaps accompanied by dire predictions that satellites will be destroyed, the electrical grid disrupted, or doomsday is upon us? I hope you have also noticed we are still alive. Predictions of the apocalypse are common and many people take them seriously. Some scenarios are crazy, and it’s not just the sun that frightens people – remember the Nibiru or Planet X 2012 Doomsday scare? But “fear of the sun” probably deserves its own “phobia” term – maybe solophobia.

If you are interested in solar activity, you’ll find many scientists share your interest. I found a nice site to monitor the sun’s activity:

Scroll down to the gages showing the sun’s magnetic field, solar wind speed, and dynamic pressure. Without studying these terms, you can watch the gauge move from green to yellow to red. Relax when everything is green, and take comfort from the occasional excursion into the red: we’re still here. Click around the site and learn more about space weather.

I don’t mean to disparage reasonable preparation. From earthquakes to hurricanes, there are disasters that can leave you off the grid and beyond help for days. I live in southwest New Mexico on a ridge surrounded by dry forest. Wildfires are common and any fire around me is likely to run straight up the slopes to my house. I keep my home firewise and have a “bug out” list pinned to my bulletin board – a prioritized list of things to do or toss in the car if I need to evacuate. Everyone should be ready to take care of themselves in an emergency.

When you make your own emergency plans, consider two risks. The danger from whatever event you prepare for, and the opportunities you’ll lose by living in a bunker.

Roads Paved with Power

solar paved Parking lot east

Solar parking lot, courtesy of


One of the negatives of solar power stations is the land they chew up. Acres of desert will be shaded and access roads between panels will be compacted and denuded of vegetation, creating problems with water run-off and habitat destruction. But America already has thousands of acres of hard, compacted surface with easy access for maintenance: roads. What if roads were paved with solar cells? Roads go everywhere; could they replace expensive and vulnerable electrical distribution systems? If power were generated everywhere, would we be safe from outages due to storms or terrorism? Would roadways heat themselves and eliminate the need for snow plows and salt? It all sounds like science fiction, and yet…

Solar Roadways claims they have a technology that works and that they’re ready to start production. You can contribute through crowdsourcing.

Nothing is free: the panels must be manufactured, installed, and maintained; they must survive the constant pounding of traffic; the power must to be tied to the existing grid. As I look at the pot holes and crumbling shoulders of many roads, I wonder if our roads are even a suitable base for panels.

But it’s way too interesting to ignore. People once said the streets in America were paved in gold. It would be even more valuable if they were paved in power.

PS: I’ve read that George Takei, of Star Trek TOS, has tweeted favorably about solar roads. But if you’re curious about the likely problems, Jason Torchinsky has assembled a formidable list, from cost to hackers to durability, and he didn’t even mention dirt obscuring the embedded panels. He favors roof-top installations, including structures built over parking lots. I believe there are solar panels built alongside roads in Germany, on the right-of-way the state already owns. Even if I never drive on a solar road, I expect the effort will teach us something about generating solar power.

The Solar Forge – a Poem

The Solar Forge

By Kate Rauner

Sun Solar Dynamics Observatory

Solar Dynamics Observatory

A hundred Earths would fit across the sphere

except they’d boil away.

The energy of life blasts out, hurled

into space, and will for eons untold.

Earth catches a drop in her blue hands and molds

our world.

Geysers surge in jets and waves and looping flares,

hotter than any gas.

Human hands blend metals forged in flame.

Only the Sun transmogrifies

in a forge with protons, neutrons; which lie beyond my eyes.

I only say their names