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What are Some Prominent Features of the Sun?

The Sun, our star, is a powerhouse of energy, radiating light and warmth essential for life on Earth. Its prominent features include the scorching photosphere, dynamic sunspots, and spectacular solar flares. Understanding these solar phenomena not only fascinates but also helps us predict space weather. Curious about how these features affect us on Earth? Let's dive deeper.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The Sun, also known as Sol, is the gigantic ball of burning gas located at the center of the solar system, in case you hadn't noticed. Accounting for 99.8% of the solar system's mass, the Sun is continuously fusing four million tons of superheated hydrogen into helium every second. Helium already makes up 25% of its mass.

The Sun is about halfway in its life cycle between its birth and its future transformation into a red giant star, with a diameter as wide as the orbit of Earth. After it exhausts its nuclear fuel in about five billion years, most of its atmosphere will escape, forming a planetary nebula and leaving behind a tiny white dwarf. Called a "stellar remnant," a white dwarf is about half the mass of the Sun but with a volume comparable to the Earth. Lacking any nuclear fuel, it slowly disperses its residual heat over many billions of years, eventually becoming a black dwarf. This life cycle is typical for low and medium-mass stars like the Sun.

During coronal mass ejections, the sun pushes out large plasma flares.
During coronal mass ejections, the sun pushes out large plasma flares.

The Sun is almost a perfect sphere, bulging at the equator only to nine parts in a million. It is made of plasma, which is a superheated phase of matter that consists a charged soup of electrons with mostly hydrogen nuclei (protons) floating within. The Sun is convective, circulating its plasma between its layers. The plasma also rotates about once a month — 25 days at the equator, 35 days at the poles. The Sun is the only body in the solar system made out of plasma, created by the nuclear furnace in its core.

Researchers are currently looking into nuclear fusion, the same method of energy generation the sun uses.
Researchers are currently looking into nuclear fusion, the same method of energy generation the sun uses.

The Sun's core is where all the action happens. Extending about 0.2 solar radii from the Sun's epicenter, the core composes only 10% of the Sun's volume, but about 40% of its mass. It is about 15 times denser than lead, and is the only portion of the Sun that generates its own heat, through nuclear fusion. It takes a tremendous amount of time for the energy generated in the core to reach the Sun's surface - estimates range between 17,000 and 50 million years.

The distance from the Earth to the Sun is about eight and a third light minutes. This means that if the Sun exploded, we wouldn't know for about eight minutes. Hopefully that will never happen!

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Learn more...

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    • During coronal mass ejections, the sun pushes out large plasma flares.
      By: James Thew
      During coronal mass ejections, the sun pushes out large plasma flares.
    • Researchers are currently looking into nuclear fusion, the same method of energy generation the sun uses.
      Researchers are currently looking into nuclear fusion, the same method of energy generation the sun uses.