It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, it’s not Superman. It’s the sun. That big glowing ball of fire that’s given us life, heat, solar energy, and so much more. It’s also actively trying to kill us, and in a few billion years, it will succeed, but, minor differences.
When I asked around to a few of my fans, friends and even a few random strangers in line at Tim Hortons, the most common answers to “what is the Sun” were as follows:
- A realllllly big planet on fire
- A giant ball of gas on fire
- A giant ball of fire, that’s being held together by its OWN gravity
There was one person who got it right, but I forgot his name, but I made sure he knew he was correct.
First, let’s learn about what the Sun actually is. The sun is a huge (really.. huge) thing, weighing almost as much as 109 Earths put together. Add up every thing in the entire solar system, the Sun takes up 99% of all the mass, with the remaining 1%, Jupiter takes up 17% of that 1%. Comprised mostly of Hydrogen (~74%), Helium (~25%), and other trace elements like Iron, Oxygen and Carbon making up the remainder. Here’s a picture to put just how massive the Sun is compared to other objects in the solar system:
It’s also pretty warm, with the average surface temperature of ~5500 degrees Celsius. Before I get something heavy thrown at me, yes, that temperature is correct. The corona, what most would think of as the Sun’s atmosphere (it’s not..), is where things get really toasty, at an average of ~5 million degrees Celsius.
From Earth, and the perspective of an average sized human, the Sun appears about two inches across, from other planets, a quick trip over to the Sun’s Wikipedia page, gives us this image:
The sun is really a giant war-zone of protons. Now, protons are not attracted to each other, a simple rule of physics states that similar charges repel, where as opposite charges attract. Protons, when they see other protons, get close to each other then go flying back like a giant elastic band. Occasionally however those protons don’t have enough time to slow down, and they collide, releasing their mass as energy, in a pretty violent explosion. These explosions happen about 920 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 times per second! On a scale of two protons, it’s not a big explosion akin to a firework at night, it’s actually pretty much invisible to us. The sun however is not a few protons hanging out together, it’s more like trillions of trillions of trillions of protons (and other stuff). So many protons are flying around colliding into each other, that the Sun looses 4.3 billion kilograms every second as mass converted to energy, or about as much as 91 920 000 000 simultaneous explosions of TNT in one second.
That’s enough energy to cook 3,200 billion billion pizza pockets in one second!