It is New Year’s morning. The sun has not yet risen at our winter home in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The air is clear and cold, and I eagerly await the warmth of the morning sun. As I wait, I resolve to share my knowledge of the sun—that marvelous source of light and energy introduced by the simple words, “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.” While conveying the message that God is the creator of heaven and earth, this brief, poetic account makes no attempt to emphasize the enormity and grandeur of that creation.
The sun’s enormity and grandeur are of great interest to me—solar research has been the central focus of my career as an astrophysicist. Beginning some forty years ago at an observatory located in the high mountains of Colorado where I daily focused a carefully designed and precisely crafted telescope on the rising sun, my pursuit of the sun has taken many turns. It has taken me to other mountain observatories in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Hawaii, the High Pyrenees, and the Swiss, German, and Japanese Alps. At other extremes, it has taken me to the deserts of Africa and to remote islands in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Recently these observation sites have been supplemented by powerful extraterrestrial observatories placed in orbit by rockets or carried aboard the space shuttle. In using the unique data collected from these remote observatories, I have worked with the world’s most powerful computers as well as the most recent scientific theories. Hundreds of colleagues in the U.S. and in foreign lands have shared and aided in these efforts. Some of my colleagues have flown as astronauts, and others have endured the intense cold on the high plains of Antarctica in order to carry out delicate observations of the sun without interruption night and day for several days. Still others have built large facilities in deep mine caverns for detecting neutrinos, the most elusive of all solar radiations, emitted from the very core of the sun and able to travel almost unimpeded through both the sun and the earth.