CAPTCHA poetry

“Solar flare”, the movie

You may have read last week about the insanely huge solar flares that erupted out of the sun — the biggest ones ever recorded. Apparently, these celestial events are rated on an “X” scale, with the average flares being around X3 or X5. In contrast, the recent one was X20. If you go to NASA’s site, you can find not only pretty pictures like the one above, but entire videos of the solar flares — shot with such stunning resolution that it’s as if you were in a spaceship floating near Mercury and watching the whole thing go kerboom.

Man, I had no idea the sun was so freakin’ dangerous. I mean, seriously, you look at that video and it’s like, what the hell are we still doing alive? Yeeee.

Thus it was with some alarm that I also read a BBC story noting that scientists have reproduced a 300-million-degree solar flare in a lab. They used a tokamak — a Russian invention, which traps white-hot plasma in between magnetic fields so it can’t escape and incinerate your arms — to produce the flare.

Geek trivia: “Tokamak” was also the name of a little-known villain from the ill-fated Cold-War-era comic book Firestorm. Firestorm was filled with all these people who’d gotten their superpowers through demented lab accidents involve nuclear reactors; Firestorm himself was created when a teenager and a middle-aged scientist, caught in a nuclear-bomb explosion, were fused together into one body. (The teenager controlled the body while the scientist was reduced to sort of floating around in an “astral state” and providing guidance during battles, a relationship that was simply sloppy with freudian undertones.) Firestorm ran from 1982 to 1987, but was read by only me and about 16 other people, I think.

(Thanks to Cosma for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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