It’s fun to look at pictures of planets taken by our robotic eyeball extenders. We get to see things that are too darn far away to see with even the biggest earthbound telescope.
But there’s another kind of treat when we look at our own sun with new eyes from here on earth. We’re used to seeing marvelous detail in the moon’s changeless cratered face, but the sun is just a blinding fireball to our eyes.
When I look at a planet, I think “That’s a place.” I can imagine flying over it, or even stepping out of my little tin spaceship onto its surface. But the sun is always just the sun. Not really a place, just a white hole in the sky. My imaginary spaceship never goes there.
New telescopes (and a few space probes) are changing that. The featureless sun is really a charismatic world of curdling fire, boiling magnetic storms, and vast billowing exhalations of solar steam.
These pictures (from the Boston Globe’s Big Picture series) prove that the sun is a place jammed with personality: The Sun – The Big Picture. And if you want to know why they call it “solar wind”, be sure and look at the animation where a strong gust from the sun whips the tail off a comet