"Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset,

Swiftly flow the years.One season following another,

Laden with happiness and tears."

These words, written by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock and sung in "Fiddler on the Roof," remind us of the passage of days that accumulate into the years of our lives.

I want to comment on sunrise and sunset, completing a trilogy I started in my column a month ago. Sunrise is perhaps the most impressive moment of each day, bringing light to our lives. Sunset provides the opportunity of knowing the vast universe surrounding us in space.

Sunrise is symbolic of birth, growth, new beginnings of all kinds, resurrection, even the creation and nearly everything that has a cherished or hoped-for origin. And sunset, tending to be symbolic of endings, death and all things associated with darkness, provides contrast essential for expanding our vision.

Culture after culture has woven tales of the conflict between light and darkness. A pair of fire serpents, for example, surround the famous "Aztec Sun Calendar," a stone found in Mexico City in 1760 and now in the Museum of Anthropology in that city.

Each of these snakes of light, symbolically carrying the sun ac-ross the sky, is a plumed serpent with open jaws, and out of the mouths peer two faces, looking each other squarely in the eyes.

One represents the face of the sun, the other the countenance of the night. Their fierce eyes battle each other: day and night; light and darkness; life and death; the constant struggle between what we perceive as good and what we define as evil, strife that never ends. Humans tend to associate those things they value with light and those unwanted with darkness. We find such symbolic representations in all cultures around the world throughout time.

It is understandable that we have loved the day and feared the night. We are creatures of light, seeing our way carefully for survival and well being. Life requires light. It is the energy that gives us being. It warms us into existence. We eat it through the growth of plants and other organisms. In the forms of wood, coal or oil, recycled light, we burn it in our hearths and it fuels our combustion engines. The power of the atom fuels the sun, resulting in light radiating into space to warm Earth, and thus we live.

In the human psyche, night has always been filled with dreadful things. Our conditioning against the night, running deep in time, breeds discomfort when we are surrounded by darkness.

Some of the greatest discoveries have come about through facing our fears and venturing into uncomfortable places.

Scientists are explorers. Most people have not thought of them as such, but they are explorers as surely as are those famed for finding unknown lands. Although they explore in different ways, they discover new realities that bring us powers not previously available.

Astronomers are explorers of light. They know how to read messages hidden within the wavelengths emanating from the sun, planets, stars and galaxies. Within this past century they have expanded our comprehension more than a billionfold.

One hundred years ago we knew nothing about galaxies: we did not know we reside inside one and that billions more surround us. We knew nothing of the explosive creation and evolution of the cosmos that today is such an exciting part of our continuing exploration. Explorers of light are, of necessity, explorers of the night. Darkness is essential if we are to comprehend the meaning of light.

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Most people continue to work by day and sleep by night, but atop high mountains and aboard spacecraft astronomers explore mysteries to continually make us more comfortable as creatures of the cosmos. They go out into darkness, look around, study dim and difficult-to-see things to make us aware of the vast universe.

A few weeks ago, many witnessed a special event that dramatically represents the ex-plor-a-tion of light and darkness. The two greatest luminaries of our sky came into conjunction - moon slipped in front of sun and those who watched found themselves in perfect alignment: sun, moon, watchers and Earth.

In the middle of the day, night descended. The glorious corona of the sun flashed out as did the nearby gleaming planets. Standing in shadow, those who witnessed the total eclipse of the sun experienced the coming together of darkness and light in an unforgettable way. Fears of so many generations vanished and human eyes and brains celebrated the blending of day and night in comprehension of the necessity of both for under-stand-ing.

Two waves sweep round the planet. One brings day, the other night. The sun is always rising somewhere, and half a planet away it sets. Sunrise, sunset - one day, one season flowing into another - both have blessed us. The tide of night nourishes life. The transition to darkness allows us to see farther, imagine more freely and fathom more deeply than we possibly can when standing in daylight.

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