As George Carlin brilliantly puts it, he comically worships the sun because he can observe it, and that it is one of the basic ingredients required for all life. I certainly don’t believe in an invisible man in the sky, but I do believe that there must be extraterrestrial life forms out there–possibly those from outside of our realm of observation such as other dimensions or curvatures of spacetime. Anyway, back to the Sun.
The Sun is the center of the solar system, which you probably learned back in elementary school. This enourmous star gives us all the light and heat we need to grow food and keep warm. It was worshipped as the mightiest of the gods by the ancient Egyptians, and for good reason. The Sun, however, is not the largest star in the galaxy. It seems very big and bright because it is only 93 million miles away from Earth. Light from the Sun takes eight minutes to reach us; light from Sirius, the next brightest star, takes eight years! The Sun is made up of gases, mostly hydrogen, and is powered by a natural process called nuclear fusion–when atoms of hydrogen fuse, or join together ot make helium.
Nuclear fusion takes place in the center, or core, of the Sun, where temperatures are around 27 million degreens Farenheit. The Sun has shone in the sky for nearly 5 billion years and scientists believe it has enough hydrogen in its core to “burn” for another 5 billion years, which is over double the age of the Earth. We have a long way to go before we all die from lack of sunlight. Upon star death, it will expand to become a red giant before shrinking to become a feeble white star.
Clouds of gas called prominences can erupt from the Sun’s surface. They are best seen during a total eclipse of the Sun–when the Moon cuts off the bright light of the photosphere.
Inside the Sun
Energy is produced in the core of the Sun. It is transferred to the surface zone of radiation and convection. We can see the Sun’s photosphere through the thin chromosphere and the outher atmosphere–the cornea.
The Surface of the Sun
Cool, dark patches called sunspots lie beneath the bright spots seen here.
Solar flares are huge eruptions that occur near sunspots. They release a massive amount of energy into space.
Ribbons of Light
Solar flares send charged particles from areas aroud sunspots into space. When they hit the Earth’s charged upper atmosphere near the magnetic poles, they cause colorful dancing ribbons of light, called auroras, or Northern or Southern lights. Auroras appear more often when there is heavy sunspot activity.