Astronomy Closer Look: The Sun

Discussion in 'Astronomy' started by JcMinJapan, Sep 8, 2004.

  1. JcMinJapan

    JcMinJapan Premium Member

    Well, today the genesis satellite is coming back, so in honor of this event, I will do the Sun today.

    The Sun is a G2 star and is just one of about 100 billion or so stars in our galaxy.
    Its diameter is 1,390,000 km and has a mass of 1.989e30 kg
    The core temperature is a toasty 15,000,000 K while the surface temperature is around 5800 K

    The Sun is the largest object in the solar system. It contains more than 99.8% of the total mass of the Solar System. Jupiter has most of the rest of the mass in the Solar System. If you remember from my Jupiter post, if Jupiter was about 50 - 100 times larger, it would have been our second sun....

    The Sun is made up of 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. This will change slowly over time as the Sun converts hydrogen to helium.

    The outer layers of the Sun exhibit differential rotation: at the equator the surface rotates once every 25.4 days; near the poles it's as much as 36 days. But, the core of the Sun rotates as a solid body.

    The Sun's energy output (3.86e33 ergs/second or 386 billion billion megawatts) is produced by nuclear fusion reactions.

    Each second about 700,000,000 tons of hydrogen are converted to about 695,000,000 tons of helium and 5,000,000 tons (=3.86e33 ergs) of energy in the form of gamma rays. As it travels out toward the surface, the energy is continuously absorbed and re-emitted at lower and lower temperatures so that by the time it reaches the surface, it is primarily visible light. For the last 20% of the way to the surface the energy is carried more by convection than by radiation. It takes 50 million years for a photon to reach the surface.

    The surface of the Sun, called the photosphere, is at a temperature of about 5800 K. Sunspots (picture 10) are "cool" regions, only 3800 K (they look dark only by comparison with the surrounding regions). Sunspots can be very large, as much as 50,000 km in diameter. Sunspots are caused by complicated and not very well understood interactions with the Sun's magnetic field.

    A small region known as the chromosphere lies above the photosphere.

    The highly rarified region above the chromosphere, called the corona, extends millions of kilometers into space but is visible only during eclipses (picture 11). Temperatures in the corona are over 1,000,000 K.

    The Sun's magnetic field is very strong (by terrestrial standards) and very complicated. Its magnetosphere (also known as the heliosphere extends well beyond Pluto.

    In addition to heat and light, the Sun also emits a low density stream of charged particles (mostly electrons and protons) known as the solar wind which propagates throughout the solar system at about 450 km/sec. The solar wind and the much higher energy particles ejected by solar flares can have dramatic effects on the Earth ranging from power line surges to radio interference to the beautiful aurora borealis.

    Recent data from the spacecraft Ulysses show that the solar wind emanating from the polar regions flows at nearly double the rate, 750 kilometers per second, that it does at lower latitudes. The composition of the solar wind also appears to differ in the polar regions. And the Sun's magnetic field seems to be surprisingly uniform.

    The Sun's output is not entirely constant. Nor is the amount of sunspot activity. There was a period of very low sunspot activity in the latter half of the 17th century called the Maunder Minimum. It coincides with an abnormally cold period in northern Europe sometimes known as the Little Ice Age. Since the formation of the solar system the Sun's output has increased by about 40%.

    The Sun is about 4.5 billion years old. Since its birth it has used up about half of the hydrogen in its core. It will continue to radiate "peacefully" for another 5 billion years or so (although its luminosity will approximately double in that time). But eventually it will run out of hydrogen fuel. It will then be forced into radical changes which, though commonplace by stellar standards, will result in the total destruction of the Earth (and probably the creation of a planetary nebula).

    Most of the information was taken from UC Santa Barbara for this information

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