Our Super Sun

With all the attention the moon received yesterday after entering a “super moon” phase, we direct our attention once again to the sun.  But rather than simply scrambling at the plentiful sense of impending doom surrounding our own star, it’s time to take a moment to examine just how incredible this massive object is at the center of our solar system.  If you think you know the sun, think again.

The sun gets a lot of bad press during solar events like the recent X class flare that had experts scrambling for answers and assessing if the event held any threat for the rest of the planet.  But sometimes we forget all of the benefits it affords us as well.  Most of the energy that warms the Earth in measurable ways comes exclusively from this nearby star.  But if it seems too close for comfort, understand it’s actually some 93 million miles from the Earth on average.  And if you’re not entirely convinced that supporting all life on Earth and ejecting massive balls of fire from its photosphere is enough, consider that just as the Earth rotates, the sun actually does the same, only “days” on the sun are much longer, as it spins one full revolution once every 27 Earth days.  It has been around since the formation of Earth and all the other planets, and while it may seem old it is actually only middle aged.  Currently, the sun still has another five billion years left to go before going supernova and consuming the Earth in a brilliant and energetic haze.

If we were to burn all of the material on the surface of the Earth in an effort to either offset or mimic the behavior of our favorite star, it would take every tree and organism on Earth burning 24 hours a day and only last a few days.  And even then it would only be comparable to the total heat that actually reaches Earth.  And this would only be a tiny fraction of a percent of the energy the sun releases each day.  Given the scale of that event, it’s difficult to imagine the sheer size and magnitude of the fires involved when dealing with the sun’s power.

And if you’re wondering just how hot the sun is, this is possibly the most well known but rarely fully understood fact about the sun’s unique magnitude other than its size.  The four million tons of hydrogen being exploded every second start in a much more compact area where the average temperature is 55 million degrees Fahrenheit.  This is more energy than all the bombs exploded in all world wars, all nuclear weapons currently stockpiled in silos and on bombers, and every fire ever lit by human hands leading back all the way to the time of Babylon (including forest fires).

And if you still don’t understand the sheer weight of the object, you could fit the entire Earth within the sun over 330,000 times.  Of course this is also assuming no space would be lost for its spherical shape.  An object weighing one pound on Earth would weigh 28 pounds on the sun.

Yes, the sun is a terrifying but incredibly useful object at the center of our Solar system.  Without it we would not be able to live on this planet.  And yet with it, we have a whole host of warnings from it that it should be respected, but also possibly celebrated.