Sunday, March 24, 2013


With all the lights off, power bars disabled, ceiling fans still, computers quiet, dark perspiring bottle not far away, while reading my book, Spook Country, I turned at one point, to gaze at the steady flame of the broad candle. Often I have lost myself in the rich glow of the candle. What is it about flame that mesmerises us so? And then, mind leaping, I thought of the stars above, in the dark sky. And realised I had never really thought about it this way.

Certainly I had seen it before, the phenomena, and thought of the wonderful and vibrant colours, the variance, from the curved deep blue bottom of the laminar flame, through the intense bright yellow body, to the flickering orange tip, made vivid, often, against a dark background.

The colour and temperature of a flame are a factor of the combustive fuel and the effectiveness of the combustion. The energy in the flame excites the electrons and visible light is produced. In the candle flame, which is around 1,100°C, the oxygen contributes to the blue colour and the incandescent fine soot particles produce the yellow. As the temperature drops, red remains.


But tonight, for the first time, I thought how much this looked like, mimicked, the colour of stars in our galaxy. Like the searing blue-white of the Dog Star, the warm yellow of our Sun, to the evocative orange and red jewels, such as the Garnet Star. And how, sometimes, we get to enjoy these contrasting colours together, like viewing a candle flame, the yellow and blue of Albireo, summer delight, the orange and blue of HR 2764, winter treat. The fantastic contrast of 11-12 Camelopardalis, blue white and deep orange.

The peculiar Harvard classification of stars, starting at O, for the hottest, originally ended at K and now goes to Y, for the coolest suns. O-class orbs have surface temperatures of over 33,000°K. G-class stars, like the Sun, are around 6,000. M-class stars, the top-most star shown above, runs at around 3,000°K. Some say the additional classes for red, brown, and dark brown stars are not really stars, as they are not fusing. Certainly, they emit very low levels of light.

Is this what I like so much about viewing double stars? Distant flames in the black night? Like staring into the camp fire? Losing one's self in the candle's pure, warming fire? I don't know. Let's listen...

  • candle flame photo by Matthew Bowden
  • stellar colours hacked from the Morgan-Keennan-Kellman image from wikipedia 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very poetic Blake. Grace