The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: the sun! What the hell is it? Why does it make us look so awesome? Is sunblock all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s shine a light on it.
Lie #1: “The Sun is a Mass / Of Incandescent Gas / A Gigantic Nuclear Furnace”
They Might Be Giants’ beloved educational classic “Why Does the Sun Shine?” is in fact a cover of a 1959 song written by Hy Zaret (who also wrote “Unchained Melody,” one of the most popular songs of all time) and sung by Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans.
As with a lot of older educational material, if you quoted it in an exam, you’d flunk. Science has moved on a bit over the past 60-odd years: For a start, the sun isn’t actually a mass of incandescent gas — it’s plasma. Plasma is the fourth state of matter (after solid, liquid and gas), the key difference between a plasma and gas being that some of the electrons in a plasma are “free,” having been released from their atoms due to immense heat. Also plasmas, fact fans: lightning; the light inside neon tubes; and fire, kinda.
There are a few other inaccuracies in the song, and the band ended up being corrected by pedantic fans so often that they wrote a followup correcting the science, “Why Does The Sun Really Shine? (The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma).”
There’s a lot more going on than just “a big ball of fire a long way away” — in fact, the sun is about to enter its next solar cycle (an 11-year period of rising and falling activity), and as a result, it’s a lot more active than usual. The sun is pretty nuts — due to time working differently in strong gravitational fields, the center of it is somehow 40,000 years younger than the surface of it. Madness.
The good news (or bad news, if your 2020 is anything like everyone else’s 2020) is that the whole “the sun explodes, engulfing the universe in flame and leading to instantaneous heat-death” thing is basically impossible given the size of our sun, and even if mass were no issue, there would be between five and seven billion years before a supernova was even vaguely on the cards for us.
Rather, our sun will run out of fuel and die slowly, over about the same amount of time. First it will expand while cooling, engulfing Mercury, Venus and, yep, Earth, as it becomes a “red giant.” Then it’ll compress to about the size of the Earth, while still weighing the same, resulting in a super-dense “white dwarf,” still orbited by the remaining planets. We will, of course, be long dead. Based on the news at the moment, we’ve probably got about eight weeks left at the most, so this is all moot really.
Lie #2: “Nice Tan!”
You know what you never hear anyone say? “Look at those glorious pale abs, like they’ve been chiseled out of correction fluid by the gods themselves.” Tanned flesh just looks good, hence pasty people’s desperation to soak up summer rays as much as possible — one survey found a fifth of people even went as far as slathering themselves in vegetable oil in a bid for a golden glow, the reckless yahoos.
However, according to the U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (known as NICE even though it should clearly be NIHCE because people are suckers for things spelling out other things), there’s no such thing as a healthy tan. Unfortunately, all color changes in your skin caused by the sun, however attractive they might be, are byproducts of damage.
When you get a tan, you’re increasing the amount of melanin in your skin. Melanin is the stuff that makes skin brown, and it’s awesome, working to protect skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays from the sun. The problem comes with the processes that lead to your body increasing melanin output — it only happens after your body has absorbed enough UV rays to cause DNA damage and increase your risk of skin cancer.
Nearly 10,000 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. Fuck that. Stay indoors and, like, learn or something.
Lie #3: “You’re Acting Like the Sun Shines Out of Your Ass!”
The sun is really big and really hot. To act like the sun was inside the hole in your ass, you’d have to be acting like your rectum was being stretched to a circumference of 2.7 million miles, just shy of 10,000 degrees around the outside. Also, the big hot sun in your stupid ass would weigh 333,000 times what the Earth weighs. This new sun and the old sun would merge, destroying at least the five innermost planets, probably six. Your butthole would be marbled through this new super-sun (citation needed) (quite a lot of citations needed, actually). The only two planets that just might remain, albeit with dramatically different climates and orbits, are Neptune and — aptly, considering this is all up your butt — Uranus.
So, unless you’re acting exactly like that, you’re being lied to.
Lie #4: “Don’t Worry, I’m Wearing Sunblock”
There’s always something to worry about. The sun is bad, but sunblock might also be bad! What the fuck, right?
There are two types of sunblock. Inorganic ones like zinc oxide and titanium oxide are considered entirely safe, but are more expensive than organic ones and, since they form a physical barrier blocking light from damaging your skin, can make you look a bit like an absent-minded Juggalo who never got round to finishing their makeup.
Organic sunblock, which is both cheaper and more common, has a few more question marks around it — there are studies that suggest it can disrupt the body’s endocrine system and send your hormones all wacky. However, these are small studies or involve rodents and enormous quantities of the chemicals involved, so no actual health risk to humans has yet been determined. While last year, the FDA removed 14 of the 16 most common ingredients of sunblock from its GRASE list (of chemicals generally regarded as safe and effective), the general consensus is, as the New York Times concluded, that you should be vastly more concerned about the likely consequences of not using sunblock than the potential consequences of using it.
Where organic sunscreen really sucks is for the oceans. Coral reefs absorb oxybenzone and grow in deformed ways. Sea birds are laying eggs containing absorbed sunscreen chemicals and fish can have their fertility affected. Wearing sunscreen is vastly better than not wearing it, but things like “big-ass floppy hats” should also be considered.
Lie #5: Goths Hate the Sun!
We’ve all had a laugh or two at goths in hot weather, sweating through their eyeliner and regretting wearing their big coat to the beach. But do goths really hate the sun that much?
Married couple Tim Sinister and Claire Nally are full-time goths and have written extensively and academically about all things goth. They’re also big fans of a warm getaway. “Despite the assumption that I might hate being in the sun — cue images of vampires melting and hissing at the fiery orb of doom in the sky — I actually love it,” says Nally.
“Many goths will tell you a good amount of shade — a broad-brimmed hat or parasol — is comfortable, practical and stylish,” says Sinister. “With goth originating in the North of England in the late 1970s and early 1980s, warm weather wasn’t really a danger, but times have changed. However, you won’t get your goth card torn up if you happen to have a tan.”
Reaching out to more goths willy-nilly gets more praise for the sun. r/Goth moderator and Gothy Discord founder Dave Azoicer prefers spring and autumn, but is perfectly happy in summer. Musician Alixandrea Corvyn, who makes YouTube videos as *Gothic*Rock*Goddess*, says she suffers from seasonal affective disorder in the winter and considers herself “solar powered.”
What if you live somewhere really, really hot, though?
Las Vegas adult entertainer Charlotte Sartre — who was the first person who came up when Googling “goth Twitter,” honest — says, “I love summer and tropical vacations. I love spending all day at the beach. That said, in Las Vegas it routinely reaches 115 degrees in the summer. At those temperatures, it’s almost impossible to do anything outdoors without being miserable — thank goodness for vitamin D supplements.”
That’s a full house — a completely unscientific poll, but still, five out of five inverted crosses up for the big ol’ fire in the sky. Happy summer, goths!