Solar Events

Photosynthesis and The Sun

In the dawn of the earliest mornings in the life of our planet there arose an idea born at the level of atoms and molecules and single cells, which today we call photosynthesis. It was not an idea in the way we have ideas. It was an action—a sequence of actions, of shifting electrical charges being felt in molecule after molecule—first in one direction, then in another, as the energy from the Sun was integrated into the tiny ‘body’ of a single cell bacterium. The charges moved this way and that, through and across the primordial first architecture of life: the cell membrane.

The action was rapid and purposeful. At the close of the action there were some new molecules lying trembling with sensitivity inside the membrane, capable of ‘feeding’ the fragile life structure that had expression as a single cell. The body of the cell was given the means by which to go on—to move, to grow, to reproduce—through the energy that now was available to it in the form of these self-synthesized molecules. Their presence had been wrought through a secret weaver whose power was in its knowledge of interaction with the flooding shower of light rays falling upon the young hot planet we call Earth. The time was at least 3.8 billion years ago and life had only just begun.

This article is in praise of this process which has carried on unceasingly ever since. Photosynthesis has changed and developed, becoming more efficient at producing ‘solid’ energy with the aid of radiant solar energy. But the essential idea has remained the same for nearly 4 billion years. Today all complex organisms depend on this skill for their very life. The descendants of one particularly talented bacterium, living around 2.7 billion years ago, live on in the salad and vegetables you may eat today. The chicken or fish or cow whose flesh we may eat today also owes its life to those same descendants, which exist in great quantity in all plant cells, known to biologists as chloroplasts. Virtually all of life, and certainly all complex life forms depend for their food, ultimately, on this original transaction and relationship between Earth’s agents of photosynthesis and the Sun.

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