Like most stars, the Sun is not completely steady. It has a cycle ofactivity that lasts eleven years from one peak to the next. When the cycle is at its peak the Sun's surface is pocked with dozensof dark sunspots, magnetic "storms" that restrict energy flow andhave a cooler temperature than the rest of the Sun. During the peak,there are more solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Thesepowerful events can hurl billions of tons of plasma outward, possiblytowards Earth where they may cause electrical disruptions and createcolorful auroral displays.When the Sun is quiet about five years later there are very fewsunspots and flares, and the Sun's overall energy output is slightlylower. No one knows exactly why the Sun goes through these cycles,but it is probably related to the way magnetic fields move inside the Sun.More about the solar cycle: http://www.science.nasa.gov/newhome/headlines/ast16dec99_1.htm
Decline and AscendanceChristendom and IslamAmong the reasons given for his jihad against the West, Osama bin Ladencited something he called "the tragedy of Andalusia."He was referring to the re-conquest of Southern Spain in 1492. For nearlyseven centuries, Moorish Spain embodied the Islamic world's culturalsuperiority over Europe. While much of medieval Europe lived in squalor,Muslim Cordoba boasted street lighting, hundreds of public baths, and atleast seventy libraries.And Islamic greatness at the time wasn't limited to Moorish Spain. BernardLewis, the world's greatest authority on the Islamic world, writes in hisnew book, What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, thata thousand years ago, only China approached the achievements of Islamiccivilization. Name the area-science, math, architecture-and the Islamicworld ran circles around the West. My friend Jack Kemp noted in a recentcolumn that this flowering of Islamic civilization "occurred when it showedthe most tolerance toward religious minorities.""Suddenly," Lewis tells us, "the relationship changed." For the last fivehundred years, the Islamic world has lagged behind the Christian West:politically, culturally, and economically. According to Lewis, this oncegreat civilization has become "poor, weak, and ignorant" compared to itsrival, the Christian West.According to Lewis, while the twentieth century saw advances in freedom and democracy in the West, the same period saw a "string of shabbydictatorships" in the Islamic world. This was coupled with religiousoppression. While Lewis's book was written prior to September 11, we can see how the rage of some Islamists over this reversal of fortunes was reflected in the events of that day.One of the major reasons for the reversal, writes Lewis, is that the Muslimworld, instead of turning its gaze inwards, chose to blame its decline onexternal forces, specifically, the Christian West. But there's more to itthan Islam's wrapping itself in victim status. This difference has to dowith the capacity for self-criticism and reform of the Christian worldview.It's not a coincidence that the period that witnessed Islam's decline andChristianity's ascent began with the Reformation. The Reformation ideal of the Church as always being reformed was a bulwark against the kind of cultural stagnation that has plagued the Islamic world. The reforming mindset not only affected Christianity, but it also createdthe foundation for the modern world. The dynamism and freedom thatcharacterizes the West is the product of Christianity's reforming itself and moving forward culturally. As historian Samuel Huntington has noted, Western Christianity shaped the basic institutions in most of the world's truly democratic societies.By contrast, when Muslims speak of "reform," they mean moving backculturally to the legal and social arrangements of Muhammad's day.While it's important to understand the historical reasons for the declinethat outrages the bin Ladens of the world, there's an even more importantlesson for Christians. The ascendancy of the West is the story of thedifference that Christianity makes, and it's a story we can't let ourculture forget.
*The most eccentric orbit of any planet in the solar system belongs toPluto, a ball of rock and ice smaller than Earth's Moon. With itseven smaller companion, Charon, Pluto traces an elliptical orbit inthe outer reaches of the solar system.When it is closest to the Sun, Pluto is 2.8 billion miles out (4.4billion km), which is closer than Neptune. But the outer end of itslong path is 4.6 billion miles from the Sun (7.5 billion km). Forall but twenty years of its 248-year orbit, Pluto is the outermostknown planet in the solar system.The Creator mad Pluto's unusual orbit have an effect on the planet. When it is closest to the Sun some of the ice on its surface evaporates, giving Pluto a thin atmosphere probably composed of nitrogen, carbonmonoxide, methane, and other light gases. That atmosphere condensesinto snow when the planet is farther from the Sun. Did you happen to know that Pluto's Creator was that Babe in Bethleham?The mysteries of Pluto and Charon:http://www.seds.org/nineplanets/nineplanets/pluto.html