Sunsets Explained

RECEIVED Sat., March 12, 2011

Dear Editor,
    I did not much understand Michael Ventura’s recent “Letters at 3AM: SXSW: Let Me Guess” [March, 11]. Guess I’m too much of a literalist. In the same vein, I have an observation from Mr. Ventura’s last column, “Some Kind of Man” [Feb. 25], specifically the statement “… those [clouds] above go dark as colors still blaze westward, until an indestructible orange glares up from beneath the Earth's curve. That glow deepens slowly. You can't mark the exact moment night falls,” by which he makes the corny equation of death to a sunset.
    Of course, there is a sunset at some point on the Earth 24 hours a day (excluding the higher and lower altitudes). Our view of any day’s sunset, however, takes place from one specific vantage point.
    For the sake of simplicity, I will describe, not as artistically as Mr. Ventura does in said column, a sunset which occurs on any plain in the middle of nowhere on the cloudless evening of a new moon. At the moment the fiery globe of the sun appears to vanish beneath the horizon, twilight begins. At this moment, the curtain of night appears to lift from the east. As the sun, from one’s perspective, sinks lower and lower below the horizon, this veil of night rises higher and higher. The demarcation between night and day is quite clear as this veil rises. Although the color of the sky below the veil is still (a deeper) blue, the brightest stars are visible within it. Planets (and the moon) may be visible on the other side of the veil still lit by the sun but never any stars. You can watch this veil cross the twilight sky quite easily. The very moment this veil of night reaches the western horizon, there is no light whatsoever from any source other than the stars themselves. The instant the veil sinks below the horizon is the instant that twilight ends and night begins.
    Likewise, there are two distinct stages of physical death. One is the moment that the breath abates, and the second is the moment that the brain and other organs cease all activity due to oxygen deprivation. As Ventura asserts, this second stage is not visible.
Kenney Kennedy
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