legacy page  
     homeaboutessential guidepicture of the daythunderblogsnewsmultimediapredictionsproductsget involvedcontact

picture of the day

chronological archive               subject archive


Left: a solar prominence detaching itself from the sun (6 December 2010).
© NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Right: detail from the papyrus of B_k-n-Mw.t, Egypt (Tenth century BCE).
Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt.


Going Round the Sun in Circles
Mar 14, 2011

Sometimes science is served better by questions than answers.

When crossing the threshold between familiar physics and uncharted territory, contemplating possibilities that are theoretically plausible but so far unexplored or untested, premature conclusions can be more detrimental than carefully framed questions transcending existing boundaries of feasibility.

On the morning of 26 June 1873, two citizens of Fort Scott, Kansas (37º50´ N, 94º42´ W), recorded an unusual appearance of the rising sun:

“The sky was clear, and the sun rose entirely unobscured. When the disk of the sun was about half way above the horizon, the form of a huge serpent, apparently perfect in form, was plainly seen encircling it, and was visible for some moments.”

As the pair were “willing, if necessary, to make affidavit of their assertions” and the editor of the local paper had “all confidence in the credibility of our witnesses,” this tidbit of information may conceal a genuine transient phenomenon on the sun – but what could that have been?

Certainly the sun was all but calm at the time of the sighting. The “serpent” was seen during the maximum of solar cycle 11, the cycle following the one that saw the famous Carrington event, transpiring about 1.5 years after the great low-latitude aurora of 4 February 1872, which was recently characterised as “the greatest of the modern epoch, surpassing that of 1859,” and “perhaps the most extensive in relatively recent times.”

The observation of the solar “serpent” from Kansas coincides with a flurry of notable aurorae that occurred between 18 and 27 June 1873. One experienced observer, Minerva Emily Wing (1833-1881), of West Charlotte, Vermont, stationed at a latitude of 44º19´ north, recorded an “aurora all night” on 22 and 23 June and characterised the peak occurrence on the 25th. as the “most brilliant aurora of this year,” having the “form of an arch, with short beams playing on both sides up and down …”

As this “most brilliant aurora” occurred one or perhaps two nights before the two witnesses at Fort Scott spotted their “huge serpent” encircling the sun, it is tempting to infer that the “serpent” was a solar prominence producing or coinciding with a coronal mass ejection intense enough to last while some of the expelled plasma had already reached the earth.

Allowing that a filament undulating around only the upper half of the solar disc could adequately be described as “encircling” it, the morphology of solar filaments lends itself well to naïve or casual comparison to a snake. This was illustrated most recently in the formation of a “‘mega-filament’ of solar magnetism” spotted on 16 November 2010, which reporters described as a “dark filament of magnetism … snaking around the sun’s southwestern horizon” or “around the sun’s SE limb” (here, here and here), a “huge snakelike tendril of magnetic plasma,” and a “snakelike solar filament arcing up from the sun” (here). Reaching a staggering length of 700,000 kilometres before snapping and sparking off a coronal mass ejection on 6 December, the filament ultimately spanned “a full solar radius.” Upon examination of photographs of the event (as above), the analogy of the structure with the contortions of a snake, perhaps a fire-spewing one, seems apposite.

Superficially, therefore, the solar “serpent” seen at Fort Scott sounds suspiciously like an eruptive solar prominence, manifesting during a powerful solar storm. Is this a loopy idea? It is well known that the solar corona, or any of its features, can never be perceived with the unaided eye of a human observer at other times than solar eclipses.

Even at dawn or sunrise, the brightness of the sky near the horizon exceeds that of any solar prominences and coronal mass ejections by several orders of magnitude. For that reason, it would be rash and irresponsible to insist on a coronal explanation of the 1873 event.

Scouring the rich repertoire of meteorological-optical phenomena for alternative options, a solar halo leaps to mind. A halo might meet the requirement of being “apparently perfect in form,” haloes have been known to sport wavy edges, and the added manifestation of a parhelion or sundog on one of its sides or of a "horn"-like arc at its top might have supplied the reptilian’s "head." Yet on current knowledge the metaphoric comparison of a halo to a snake lacks parallels entirely.

Optical coronae, which are really diffraction discs, come to mind, but are not on record as "sun snakes" either. During the few “moments” when the “serpent” was discerned would fit the ephemeral nature of the so-called "green flash," commonly spotted at sunrise or sunset, but while the flash assumes a variety of forms none surround the disc of the sun in anything resembling a loop.

Reluctant to dismiss the Fort Scott report as fictional, not fully convinced of the atmospheric options and impressed by the coincident occurrence of an auroral storm, the inquisitive mind cannot help pondering adventurous solutions to the enigma. If there is merit in a meteorological-optical interpretation, could there be a correlation between the breaking and scattering of the sun’s light, as effected by cirrus clouds, and disturbances in the geomagnetic field, such as provoke aurorae in the upper atmosphere?

Alternatively, if eruptive solar filaments discharge in arc mode, like a flash of lightning, should they not be able to rival the brilliance of the sun’s photosphere, however fleetingly? To avoid circular reasoning, the observation from Fort Scott cannot be invoked in support of this suspicion. Yet with a history of scientific observations reaching back no further than some four centuries, are solar physicists really in a position to roundly dismiss these possibilities? On the other hand, "special pleading" is an undesirable tactic and, on present knowledge, only the assumption of a halo or glory emerges as justifiable.

This small puzzle is of some importance from an interdisciplinary point of view. In the image of a snake encircling the sun mythologists and symbologists may recognise the ourobóros or "tail-biting serpent," most familiar from alchemical iconography.

In ancient Egyptian art and literature, the circular snake was almost exclusively portrayed surrounding the sun, as were other types of so-called uraeus serpents. Some of these may be explicable in terms of "green flashes" and other optical phenomena. Could others, and perhaps specifically the round snake, relate to ancient observations of the solar corona, be it during eclipses or not?

In a roundabout way, these musings revive the question what mechanism powers the sun. During the late nineteenth century, when astronomers were still debating whether the solar corona envelopes the sun or the moon, or is just an artefact of the earth’s atmosphere, the open intellectual climate still allowed the English astronomer, Sir William Huggins (1824-1910), to address the Royal Society of London with his electrical model of the sun.

After a century’s worth of gravity-only models for the sun, Huggin’s conviction that the sun operates electrically is now coming full circle. Perhaps, then, the time is also ripe to examine another of Huggin’s hunches: “May the corona have been still faintly visible in the earliest ages of the human race? Are there any philological traces of it in the earliest words and ideas connected with the sun?” Until that question is answered, the dragon will most likely continue to rear its ugly head.

Rens Van Der Sluijs

Books by Rens Van Der Sluijs:

The Mythology of the World Axis

The World Axis as an Atmospheric Phenomenon


The Lightning-Scarred Planet Mars
Symbols of an Alien Sky DVD episode 2
A video documentary that could change everything you thought you knew about ancient times and symbols.

The Symbols of an Alien Sky video series will introduce you to celestial spectacles and earth-shaking events once remembered around the world. Archaic symbols of these events still surround us, some as icons of the world’s great religions, though the origins of the symbols appear to be lost in obscurity.

In this second episode of Symbols of an Alien Sky, David Talbott takes the viewer on an odyssey across the surface of Mars. Exploring feature after feature of the planet, he finds that only electric arcs could produce the observed patterns. The high resolution images reveal massive channels and gouges, great mounds, and crater chains, none finding an explanation in traditional geology, but all matching the scars from electric discharge experiments in the laboratory.  (Approximately 85 minutes) See: Lightning-Scarred Planet info


"The Cosmic Thunderbolt"

YouTube video, first glimpses of Episode Two in the "Symbols of an Alien Sky" series.


And don't forget: "The Universe Electric"

Three ebooks in the Universe Electric series are now available. Consistently praised for easily understandable text and exquisite graphics.

  This free site search script provided by JavaScript Kit  
  FREE update -

Weekly digest of Picture of the Day, Thunderblog, Forum, Multimedia and more.
*** NEW DVD ***
  Symbols of an Alien Sky
Selections Playlist

An e-book series
for teachers, general readers and specialists alike.
(FREE viewing)
  Thunderbolts of the Gods

  Follow the stunning success of the Electric Universe in predicting the 'surprises' of the space age.  
  Our multimedia page explores many diverse topics, including a few not covered by the Thunderbolts Project.  

Authors David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill introduce the reader to an age of planetary instability and earthshaking electrical events in ancient times. If their hypothesis is correct, it could not fail to alter many paths of scientific investigation.
More info
Professor of engineering Donald Scott systematically unravels the myths of the "Big Bang" cosmology, and he does so without resorting to black holes, dark matter, dark energy, neutron stars, magnetic "reconnection", or any other fictions needed to prop up a failed theory.
More info
In language designed for scientists and non-scientists alike, authors Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott show that even the greatest surprises of the space age are predictable patterns in an electric universe.
More info

The opinions expressed in the Thunderbolts Picture Of the Day are those of the authors of
the material, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thunderbolts Project.
The linking to material off-site in no way endorses such material and the Thunderbolts
Project has no control of nor takes any responsibility for any content on linked sites.

EXECUTIVE EDITORS: David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Mel Acheson, Michael Armstrong,
Dwardu Cardona, Ev Cochrane, C.J. Ransom,
Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs,
Ian Tresman
WEBMASTER: Brian Talbott
© Copyright 2011:
top ]

home   •   picture of the day   •   thunderblogs   •   multimedia   •   resources   •   forum   •   updates   •   contact us   •   support us