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Our Star, our Sun: Sol








All natural light comes from the Sun around which we revolve, or from other suns in a collection of about two hundred billion suns called the Milky Way, of which our star is but one. The light of the Moon, of all the planets, and everything we see for billions of miles is only reflected light of our star. Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock lyrics "We are star dust/We are golden" are literally true. The atoms of our body have come from the cores of ancient exploded suns.

864,000 miles in diameter, our Sun is a star composed of 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. It contains 99.8% of all of the mass in the solar system—the planets and everything else amount to only 1/500th of the total. The surface of the Sun is 5,800° on the absolute Kelvin scale (or 9600° Fahrenheit), but in the corona—which extends out for millions of miles and is only visible during eclipses—the temperature is over one million degrees Kelvin!

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) postulated an equivalence between all matter and energy in the universe, quantifiable by the equation e = mc2. In that equation "e" stands for energy, "m" stands for mass (see the glossary), and "c" stands for the speed of light (670 million miles per hour in a vacuum). Thus the amount of energy in any body is equal to its mass (its weight divided by the planet's pull that gives it its weight) times the speed of light squared (the speed of light times itself). Since light goes 300 million meters per second, and the speed of light squared is 9x1016 (90 quadrillion) meters per second, there's a lot of energy in matter! This is how stars shine, how the universe makes a living, and how atomic and hydrogen bombs are able to liberate as much energy as they do.

Stars shine because they convert matter into energy. At the Sun’s core the pressure is 250 billion times Earth sea level, the density 150 times that of water, and the temperature 15.6 million degrees. The pressure is so great there that the lightest gas in the universe, hydrogen, is 14 times denser than lead! Under this tremendous pressure ionized hydrogen atoms, protons, are fused together to form ionized helium. But two protons stuck together have about 7% less mass than two separate protons. This 7% mass loss in fusing two protons together is released as energy to the tune of Einstein's e = mc2; this is where stars get the juice to shine for billions of years.

The high-energy photons released in the Sun’s core from these fusion reactions take a long time to reach the Sun’s surface because of their indirect path and because they are constantly being absorbed and reemitted at lower energies. Estimates of this photon travel time range from 100,000 to a few million years, when they are released as visible light into space.

Einstein’s equation of the relativity of mass and energy e = mc2 tells us that the amount of energy in a raisin equals that released by exploding 10,000 tons of TNT! This is how the Sun can emit 386 billion billion (not a typo) megawatts per second. The entire Earth would need one million years to make that much energy at current rates. At the center of the Sun 700 million tons of hydrogen are converted by nuclear fusion to about 695 million tons of helium and 5 million tons of gamma ray energy every second. Since its birth 4.6 billion years ago, the Sun has burned up about half of the hydrogen in its core. It will continue to burn as it does now for another five billion years, during which time it will become twice as bright. Eventually it will run out of hydrogen, undergoing changes that will totally destroy the Earth.

In addition to light and heat, the Sun continuously emits a million-mile per-hour stream of electrically charged particles called the solar wind. To read more about the solar wind, the heliosphere, and its interaction with the solar wind of other stars in our galaxy (causing the heliopause), click here.

This Our-Star-our-Sun-Sol-Solar-System page and much of this 600-page website are excerpted from the personalized Fine Art Book You and the Universe.

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© Carl Woebcke, Our Star, our Sun, Sol-Solar System, 1991-2016. All rights reserved.