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If you are an aspiring astronomer, the sun is one of the few things that you can study during the day, and there is plenty to learn about it, whether you are a child or an adult. Keep reading as we look at several interesting facts about the sun.
The sun compresses hydrogen into helium through a process that scientists call nuclear fusion. This process creates heat that can reach 27 million degrees Fahrenheit.
The sun looks relatively calm from here on Earth, but scientists can detect it shaking. The sun has phases where it gets agitated or excited, and it can shake quite a bit. This shaking helps scientists figure out the sun’s inner workings.
By observing the shaking of the sun, experts know that nuclear fusion occurs in the core, and it results in the creation of gamma-ray photons and neutrinos. These radiate away from the core to the reflective zone just below the surface, where they can bounce around randomly for up to 1 million years before finally reaching the surface.
Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, behind only hydrogen. Pierre Johnson, a French astronomer, found proof of the new element during a solar eclipse in 1868 and named it helium.
The nuclear fusion reactions occurring in the sun produce ultraviolet light, labeled as UVB waves, which are harmful to humans and most other lifeforms. Fortunately, the Earth’s ozone layer filters out many of these waves and protects us, but depletion of this layer over the past few decades has been a constant concern. This ozone layer sits between 6 and 10 miles above sea level.
The sun has three layers below the surface. The innermost layer is the core, followed by the radiative zone and then the convection zone. The bulk of the sun is in these three layers, but there are four more thin layers right at the surface that we can see. The photosphere is the innermost visible layer, followed by the chromosphere. The transition layer is a thin layer that gets quite hot and is just below the corona, the outermost layer that is easiest to see. However, we can only view it during an eclipse or by using a coronagraph.
The chromosphere of the sun has several hot gases called spicules that rise through it at the rate of 18 miles per second, enabling them to travel more than 1,000 miles per minute. These hot gases led to the discovery of helium during an eclipse in 1868.
Scientists say that the sun is the most perfect natural sphere that you can observe in nature. If you scaled down the sun to the size of a beach ball, the variations would be smaller than that of a human hair. In contrast, Jupiter, another ball of gas, is 7% wider at its equator than the poles.
While spicules occur in the chromosphere, sunspots are only in the photosphere. These spots can have temperatures as much as 2,000 degrees Kelvin cooler than the rest of the photosphere. These spots can also be quite large, often reaching more than 30,000 miles in diameter. They usually occur where there is plenty of intense electromagnetic activity, resulting in solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
If you want to study the sun’s interior, you’ll want to get a degree in helioseismology. It involves observing the sun’s surface to improve our understanding of its interior. Recent developments in this field make it easier to study subsurface structures and flows under sunspots and on the far side of the sun, which helps influence magnetic field theories.
Humans use a satellite called the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory to study the sun 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. It uses 12 different scientific instruments to collect various types of information. This satellite is in orbit about 92 million miles from the sun.
Almost all representations of the sun show it as a yellow object, and it can even appear that way if you glance at it quickly. However, its true color is white, and you can do a simple experiment to see this for yourself. Take a white sheet of paper into a dark closet along with a few different colored lights. You will notice that when you shine the different lights, they change the color of the paper. The paper will only appear white when using white light, and if you take the paper outside at noon, you will see that the paper is white.
The sun is so large that you could fit 1.3 million Earths inside — if you squished them. Otherwise, 960,000 would fit. This figure shows how massive the sun is. The largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, could only contain about 1,321 Earths.
The Earth is currently orbiting around the sun in a slightly elliptical orbit, so our exact distance can vary considerably; however, the average distance is about 93 million miles. Scientists consider this one astronomical unit (AU), and they use it to determine the distance to other objects in space. For example, Jupiter orbits the sun at about 5 AU.
There are quite a few interesting facts about the sun that can interest people of all ages. Many people may be surprised to learn that the sun has so many layers and that we have a satellite deployed to study it exclusively. It’s also interesting that the sun is a perfect sphere, especially since gas planets like Jupiter tend to bulge around the equator.
Featured Image Credit: Tanishq Tiwari, Unsplash
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Ed Malaker is a veteran writer who contributes to a wide range of blogs covering information on computer programming, pets, birding, tools, fitness, guitars, and optics. Outside of writing, Ed is often found working in the garden or performing DIY projects in the house. Ed is also a musician, spending his time composing music for independent films or helping people repair their guitars.
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