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The Sun

Our Sun has inspired mythology in almost all cultures, including

ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Native Americans, and Chinese. We now

know that the Sun is a huge, bright sphere of mostly ionized gas,

about 4.5 billion years old, and is the closest star to Earth at a distance

of about 150 million km. The next closest star - Proxima Centauri - is

nearly 268,000 times farther away. There are millions of similar stars

in the Milky Way Galaxy (and billions of galaxies in the universe). Our

Sun supports life on Earth. It powers photosynthesis in green plants

and is ultimately the source of all food and fossil fuel. The connection

and interaction between the Sun and the Earth drive the seasons,

currents in the ocean, weather, and climate.

The Sun is some 333,400 times more massive than Earth and contains

99.86 percent of the mass of the entire solar system. It is held

together by gravitational attraction, producing immense pressure and

temperature at its core (more than a billion times that of the

atmosphere on Earth, with a density about 160 times that of water).

At the core, the temperature is 16 million degrees kelvin (K), which is

sufficient to sustain thermonuclear fusion reactions. The released

energy prevents the collapse of the Sun and keeps it in gaseous form.

The total energy radiated is 383 billion trillion kilowatts, which is

equivalent to the energy generated by 100 billion tons of TNT

exploding each second.

In addition to the energy-producing solar core, the interior has two

distinct regions: a radiative zone and a convective zone. From the

edge of the core outward, first through the radiative zone and then

through the convective zone, the temperature decreases from 8 million

to 7,000 K. It takes a few hundred thousand years for photons to

escape from the dense core and reach the surface.

The Sun's "surface," known as the photosphere, is just the visible 500-

km-thick layer from which most of the Sun's radiation and light finally

escape, and it is the place where sunspots are found. Above the

photosphere lies the chromosphere ("sphere of color") that may be

seen briefly during total solar eclipses as a reddish rim, caused by hot

hydrogen atoms, around the Sun. Temperature steadily increases with

altitude up to 50,000 K, while density drops to 100,000 times less than

in the photosphere. Above the chromosphere lies the corona

("crown"), extending outward from the Sun in the form of the "solar

wind" to the edge of the solar system. The corona is extremely hot -

millions of degrees Kelvin. Since it is physically impossible to transfer

thermal energy from the cooler surface of the Sun to the much hotter

corona, the source of coronal heating has been a scientific mystery for

more than 60 years. Scientists believe that energy transfer has to be

in the form of waves or magnetic energy. Likely solutions have

emerged from recent SOHO and TRACE satellite observations, which

found evidence for the upward transfer of magnetic energy from the

Sun's surface toward the corona above. Researchers in NASA's Sun-

Earth Connection Space Science theme study these mysterious

phenomena.

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Amateur Telescopes

Everything you need for your hobby