Tag Archives: the sun project

The Sun Project: Epilogue

As I handed over my completed Sun Project to my professor on November 1, I felt a confused combination of pride, sadness and relief. After eight weeks of observing the sunrise and sunset, I was, on the one hand, extremely grateful for the experience. On the other hand, I was totally over it. Waking up early on days when all I wanted to do was sleep in had grown annoying, and the later-rising and earlier-setting sun had begun to interrupt other activities. On the day of my last observation, melodramatic me was celebrating— “Yes! I’ve finally got my life back!”

the last sunset!

“Yes! I’ve finally got my life back!”

And yet, I felt a certain regret as I realized that this would probably be the last time a professor asked me to perch myself in front of the horizon and become deeply aware of the sun, the Earth, and the natural cycle of day and night. The next time I would do so would have to be of my own volition. Luckily, my professor had given me eight weeks of intensive practice and study so that next time I found myself before the sunrise or sunset, I would know what to do—that is, marvel at the majesty of nature, the beauty of the sun-painted sky, and the miracle of life, all while appreciating the science behind it. If there is one thing I learned from this project, it is that nature and science are not opposed. The natural world is one of scientific processes, patterns, and (im)perfections. Science is the quest to understand this natural clockwork, to discover the magician’s secrets. Both are beautiful.

Thankfully, I didn’t grow too tired of observing the sun, because not long after the end of the Sun Project, I was at it again. Last weekend, my sister came to visit me in Tucson, so she, my roommate and I decided to take some hot chocolate up to Windy Point and watch the sunset. Driving up Mt. Lemmon, I had been worried that the cloud cover would be too thick to see a good one, but once we got out of the car and started heading toward the mountainside, my worries were gone. The clouds would be what made this particular sunset so breathtaking.

before the sunset

Clamoring up the jagged boulders to our chosen observation spot, I felt a familiar contentment washing over my body and mind. It was the same wave of calm that had come over me during the Sun Project as I watched the sun dip below the mountain tops week after week—the silence of the closing day, the stillness of the resting world, the gradual deceleration of life’s momentum.

As the sun sunk lower, the sky transformed into a glowing swirl of gold, pink and orange. The ever-changing canvas was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and would never see again. Like every individual, every breath, every embrace, no sunset is the same. Its existence is finite and ephemeral, offering itself to the world for only minutes before subsiding, forever, into darkness. That is perhaps what makes a sunset so precious—it cannot be repeated or copied, traced in a stencil or captured, precisely how it was, in a photograph. Its life is fleeting, yet its light, so extraordinary in all its luster, makes life on this world that much richer.


Not unlike your own.





Filed under Projects, Prose

The Sun Project: Part 1

Despite two years of calculating a student’s velocity just before he splashes into a pool of sharks after being shot out of a canon from the top of a 105-foot cliff (yes, Mr. Littleton adored his physics students), I’ve never been into science. I can do it, sure, but would I volunteer to pass my spare time contemplating the half-life of uranium? No, never. And that’s why, after years of avoiding it, I got stuck taking a freshman-level general education course on planetary science my second-to-last semester of college.

I frowned as I approached the classroom on the first day of school. Underclassmen surrounded me. I grimaced at their beyond-bootie shorts and bro tanks. I listened as they chatted about what happened at Saturday night’s pre-game, who almost got an MIP, rush, football. This, I thought, is going to be miserable.

Then the classroom doors opened and we filed in. The course, it turns out, is held in the planetarium. We all sat down in large, well-cushioned chairs that tilt back a few degrees so that you can look up at the ceiling of the spherical room. The lights were dimmed and the professor’s presentation illuminated the ceiling.

As the professor began to explain his syllabus, I learned that this class would not be a typical gen-ed. We would not be sitting passively in our seats and listening to him ramble, then exiting and letting all he said fly out of our minds until the following week. Instead, we would be going out at night to observe the moon and the planets. We would experience demonstrations in the planetarium, where the ceiling turns into a perfect image of the night sky. And we would be doing something called the “Sun Project.”

The Sun Project requires us to observe 8 sunrises and 8 sunsets, each about one week apart from another. We have to take a picture of ourselves at our observing site (to prove it’s us taking the pictures), then snap a photo of the sun just before it rises over the mountains or dips below the horizon.

My first reaction to the Sun Project was something like, “You mean I have to be awake, presentable enough for a photo, and capable of driving all before the sunrise? Fat chance.” My next thought was to drop the class. But I chased this negativity away and focused on the opportunity that my professor had handed me: I am required to enjoy on a weekly basis two of the most remarkable, most beautiful natural phenomena on Earth.

before the sunrise 9/18

So, on Wednesday mornings I wake up around 5:55 to roll out of bed and into my car, disheveled and puffy-eyed from sleep. I drive, racing the sun, to the bridge that crosses the Rillito River at Campbell and River. I park in the empty Trader Joe’s lot and cross to the east side of the street to wait for the sun to climb over the mountain tops.

On these mornings, the world seems a different place, suspended somewhere between sleep and waking. The air is cool and damp. The only sound is the occasional passing car and the breathless conversations of joggers who run by along the river bank.

Each time I am there inhaling the fresh, pure morning air, I  think to myself that this moment is sacred.

Then the first rays of sun come streaming over the peaks. I feel their warmth on my skin and squint at the horizon as the air turns from hazy blue to dusty gold. Now, the world is completely awake, and there is no more room for dreaming. The last lingering star winks before the sun envelops its sparkle. The world turns.

sunrise 9:18

Every time I greet the sun now, I am reminded that I am rotating and that the earth I stand on is in orbit. I think about the endless cycle of day and night that gives birth to new opportunity, though it follows the same path and repeats the same pattern with each passing day. Every time the sun rises above the horizon, we are given the chance to reset and recalibrate. To try again if we must, and to try anew. The world is born again, though from the same womb.

Greet the sun. Embrace the day. Invite the new. And take solace in knowing that tomorrow will come, again.

Smiles and all the best,



Filed under Prose