Sunset

As the equinox approached, Confucius and Laotzu journeyed to an island near Singapore to visit friends in an Orthodox monastery. It was noon and the sunlight was coming down vertically. Nothing cast a shadow. For a moment the glare was so intense it seemed to Laotzu as if sunlight were coming through the air without attenuation, as if there were no air. He put out his hands palms up side by side, forming a roughly square platform ten fingerwidths wide. He thought that the radiant power on that area must now be a chi.

Like many other Taoist sages, Laotzu could see in the infrared and tell the keynote frequency in a thermal glow. He could see that the keynote frequency in sunlight is 40 trillion per mil and so he knew that the temperature on the surface of the sun is 40 grade. It was four times hotter than what the two sages used to achieve in their kiln using the forced draft from a bellows.

That afternoon Laotzu examined the curious Orthodox clock in the monastery. It told time in ordinary minutes (60 to an hour) rather than the Taoist minutes to which he was accustomed. Later they and their friends watched the sun set. It took 2.13 ordinary minutes for it to set, from the first moment that it touched the horizon till the last sliver of sun disappeared.

Laotzu thought about the sunset lasting 2.13 ordinary minutes and he reflected that the whole cycle of day and night takes 1440 of that kind of minute. So for the earth to turn by an angle of one radian takes 1440 divided by two pi, or 229 minutes.

"I have learned the distance to the sun," he told Confucius. "I know how many of its diameters it is distant. The number of diameters is 229 divided by 2.13." Confucius was very skilled with the abacus and he divided the two numbers to get 107.5. "It would be neater if you expressed the distance to the sun in terms of its radius," he told Laotzu. "The distance is 215 radii."

That night Laotzu dreamed of walking in a field of bright sunlight. It was many times brighter than any patch of sunshine he had ever seen, or that could be on earth, even in unattenuated vertical sunlight. It was 215 times 215 times brighter. It was 215-squared brighter. Laotzu decided that he must be walking on the surface of the sun.

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Copyright © 2002 Leonard Cottrell. All rights reserved.

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