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The Astronomical Planet
The Sun

The Astronomical Planet The SunOur 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 oceans, weather, and climate.

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Planetary Statistics of the Sun
Environment of the Sun
Images and Information
The Astrological Planet The Sun

Planetary Statistics of the Sun:

the Sun: Center of the solar system
Diameter: 865,000 Miles
Planetary Day: 24.6 Earth days to make one complete revolution on its axis.
Temperature: Surface: 5800 K (5,527 C, 9,980 F) core: 15,600,000 K (15,599,727 C, 28,079,540 F)

Environment of the Sun

The Sun is a variable star, unlike any other star yet discovered. It revolves from East to West: i.e., looking down on its North pole, it moves counter-clockwise.

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. The pressure is more than a billion times than that of the atmosphere on Earth! Its density is about 160 times that of water!

At its core, the temperature is 16 million degrees kelvin (K), which is sufficient to sustain thermonuclear fusion reactions. The energy released prevents the collapse of the Sun and keeps it in gaseous form. The total energy radiated is 383 billion trillion kilowatts. That's 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. 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.

Information Courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech

Images and Information

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  • The Burning Sun
    This image of the burning Sun shows a huge, handle-shaped prominence taken on Sept. 14, 1999. Prominences are huge clouds of relatively cool dense plasma suspended in the Sun's hot, thin corona.

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