SunSpots: A Study in Optics

Perhaps you're shrouded in snow and ice and dreaming of a scene such as this:

When I first saw this beautiful painting at a traveling art show in Philadelphia last summer, I was taken with the spots on the woman’s dress. I think part of my excitement was the thrill of recognition. Can you see how “round” they are?

What might be causing them?


Likely the sunlight is filtering through the trees and, even more likely, the gaps in the leaves are not perfectly round. So why would the spots be round?


What else is round?


If you said, “The sun,” you’d be right. Pinholes (in this case, larger, oddly-shaped, leaf-gap holes) work somewhat like lenses and can make images if the conditions are right. It helps if there’s a big difference in brightness—here, the screen (her dress) is in shadow, and the sun is shining brightly. If her dress were in very dark shadows, you could see more of the scene (such as blue sky, clouds). You might want to research more about pinhole projectors and how they work. 


So, the next time you see round, bright spots of sunlight, consider what it is you're really seeing; an image of the sun. It's a way we can see the sun without looking at the sun directly (which is always a bad idea). In Colossians 1:15 it says, "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God." Looking at Christ allows us to see God in a way we couldn't otherwise. Something to ponder.


The painting entitled, Springtime, was painted by Claude Monet, 1872. 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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