We all know the Sun. But how much do we really know about the Sun?
Here are the most interesting and fun facts about the Sun for kids and adults.
What Is The Sun?
If there is one single factor of our solar system that helps to keep everything else together and in order, is has to be the Sun. Positioned in the center of this vast solar system of ours, the Sun has been producing energy for over 4.5 billion years and it looks set to carry on this same pattern for at least the same amount of time in the future. Which suggests that the Sun is currently about half way through its expected life cycle.
The Sun Is The Biggest Body In Our Solar System
As the Sun is the biggest body in our solar system, by far, it has the greatest gravitational force. This, in turn, is why all of the planets, comets, asteroids and other matter which goes to make up our solar system orbits such a gigantic object. All of the known 8 planets, plus their moons and other bodies circle around the Sun and their rate of orbit will always be greatly determined by their actual distance from this star.
The planet Mercury is the first body to be found away from the Sun. This planet is known to take around 88 Earth days to complete a complete orbit of the Sun. Venus comes next and this planet, which is known to be very similar in size to the Earth, takes around 225 days to orbit the Sun. As we know, Earth takes around 365.25 days to travel all the way around the Sun. But it is when you get past Mars (687 days), that you really start to notice how long the objects in our solar system at these distances take to complete one orbit.
Once you travel between Mars and Jupiter and through a vast and compact belt of asteroids, you reach the immense gas giant planets. These are a very long way from our Sun and therefore the sun would appear so much smaller in the sky, if you were able to cast a glance back in the right direction. Jupiter has an orbital period of 4332 days; Saturn is 10760 days; Uranus 30700 and Neptune takes a very long 60200 days. By the time you reach the minor planet of Pluto, a year here will take a phenomenal 90600 days: that’s equivalent to around 248 of our Earth years.
Even though some of the planets are so far away from the sun, it is still known that they are able to derive some amounts of energy from it. However, it is worth noting that generally speaking (unless there are other forces at work), the farther you travel out away from our sun, the colder things become, as very little energy is able to penetrate the farthest reaches of our solar system.
The Birth of The Sun
The birth of the Sun would have occurred as a consequence of another star dying. However, this other star would have been much larger than our own, during its lifetime, and when it did finally reach the end of its existence, it would have gone out with a REAL bang! In fact, it is now known that new stars form in areas where the most powerful explosions in the entire Universe have taken place: nebulae which are the remnants of supernova explosions.
Many, many years before our Sun even came into being, there would have been a tremendous explosion (super nova) whereby an old star finally reached the very end of its life. This explosion would have filled that corner of the Cosmos with a huge amount of matter and over time, new stars would form in the resulting nebula cloud.
Our Sun was born, and at that time, our solar system would have been a swirling disc of matter which would not be in any way identifiable as the ordered collection of planets, moons, comets and other bodies that we know of today. The Sun would already be generating energy by way of the process of nuclear fusion (where it changes hydrogen into helium atoms) and due to its gravitational force, the swirling matter would soon start to take on shapes and objects in the solar system that we see today.
The First Million Years Of The Sun
Over the first million years of the Sun’s life, the planets would start to take their shape and it is not known if the 8 planets (plus Pluto) would have been as they are from the early days of our star’s existence. It is thought highly likely that as a result of massive and catastrophic collisions between these different bodies in the early solar system, planets would have been destroyed or altered significantly. Indeed, this is our current thinking when we try to work out exactly how our own moon was formed. It is likely that the moon was at one time a part of our own planet, which at that time would have been much larger. It might also be a part of the huge body of material that crashed into us in the earlier days of the Sun’s existence.
Eventually, as the Sun reached its one billionth birthday, and beyond, things would have calmed down significantly and the order of the solar system, as we currently know it, would have become established. The Sun would have continued to generate its energy through the process of nuclear fusion and it could look forward to a life span that is estimated at around 10 billion years.
What Powers The Sun?
Have you ever sat under the warm sun on a beautiful Summer’s day and wondered where exactly this heat comes from? Given the fact that our planet lies some 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) away from this object in our sky, how can such heat travel to us over this immense distance?
For the first millennia of our species’ existence, this is indeed a question our ancestors would have been pondering over continually. In fact, as we can feel the life-giving warmth of the Sun for ourselves, it really is no wonder so many ancient civilizations worshiped the Sun as their ultimate God and respected the fact that they owed their very lives to this awesome celestial body.
Nowadays, we have a far better understanding of exactly what powers the Sun; we can also make a very educated guess as to how old the Sun is and how much longer into the future the Sun is likely to carry on. We know that the Sun is over 4.5 billion years old and that it is around middle-aged: meaning that it is likely to continue for at least the same amount of time again in the future.
As to what powers the Sun, this is something that we are completely aware of now and we actually recreate these same processes here on Earth, albeit on a far smaller scale, of course. Nuclear fusion is what take places in the core of the Sun and this is when simple, single atoms known as hydrogen, gain an extra atom and fuse together to become helium. This process generates huge amounts of energy and this is exactly what is powering the Sun. The energy produced in the core of the Sun is what accounts for the heat and energy we can feel here on Earth.
The Sun will not always continue to produce helium, however, as when this body reaches the end of its life, it is known that the Sun will start to produce more and more complex atoms: first of all it will start to produce lithium; then beryllium and so on until it finally reaches the end of its existence.
It is very interesting to note that many of the atoms that we find around us, here on Earth, were only produced when another star had reached the very end of its life. In fact, some of the heaviest atoms in the world could never hope to be made by our Sun, as it is not on a large enough scale. The heaviest and rarest atoms in the universe will only be made by stars that have a mass many times larger than that of our Sun and even then, the nuclear fusion required to create these atoms may only last for a very short period of time.
The Position of The Sun
If you sit back and think about the statistical mathematics of the Cosmos, it really would not take you long to feel like a completely insignificant dot. When you consider the fact that our Sun is just one of around 100 billion stars in our galaxy (The Milky Way) and then that there are literally hundreds of millions of other galaxies in the Universe, this is enough to make you gulp audibly and realize that with all of these billions of other solar systems out there – the odds are definite that some of these will contain just the right conditions to support life – indeed even intelligent life forms.
Life exists on our planet because we are at a distance away from the Sun that is known to be absolutely ideal when it comes to the temperatures and atmospheric conditions that are supported here. If we were too close (e.g. Mercury), we would experience temperatures that would simply fry most types of life forms (although it is known that some extreme forms of life exist here on Earth that can endure both very high and low temperatures); similarly, if we were too far away (e.g. Neptune), it would probably be too cold for any life to exist (although tidal heating could prove this wrong). This zone around the Sun is affectionately known as the ‘Goldilocks Zone’: because it is not too hot or too cold – just right!
Which brings us back to taking a look at other stars in the Milky Way and indeed in the whole of the Universe. As our telescopes continue to advance here on Earth, astronomers are often focusing their attention on the Goldilocks Zones around stars to attempt to find planets where there may well be life. We really are at the very brink of discovery in this regard and hopefully during our lifetimes, we will start to find more concrete evidential support for such a fact.
In relation to the Milky Way, we have managed to work out that our Sun is positioned about two-thirds out from what is known as the galactic center. This is the part of the Milky Way where there is a higher concentration of stars and this, in turn, makes the center of the galaxy appear much brighter than the spirals and branches of stars that emanate from this region.
When looking at the galactic center of the Milky Way, you might be fooled into thinking that stars are positioned very closely together in this region, however, there will often still be several light years of distance between each star in this area. Just as we are said to be around 4.2 light years away from our nearest stellar neighbor – Proxima Centauri.
The Sun’s Future
We all tend to take it for granted that our Sun has been here for ever and that it will continue to glow for eternity. Perhaps, when you look at the life expectancy of the Sun and compare it with our own, this is an assumption that is fair enough. However, our Sun has not always been around and there will come a time when this awesome body will reach the end of its life. No need to worry about this happening any time soon, though, as the Sun probably has at least another 5 billion years ahead of it: so no apocalyptic event likely to wipe out our species for this reason, thank goodness!
Our Sun is what is known as a ‘main sequence star’, meaning that it is pretty average as far as stars go. But this is actually quite good news for our very own star, as it means that as it is not too big, it can look forward to an average life expectancy of around 10 billion years. More massive stars are known to use up their energy more quickly and therefore have far shorter life expectancies.
In around 5 billion years’ time, our Sun will be starting to cool and the process of nuclear fusion, whereby hydrogen atoms are converted into helium, will eventually grind to a halt. The Sun will then start to fuse different atoms: more complex and heavier ones, and the body will also grow to a much larger size and take on a reddish-orange glow that is known in the world of astronomy as a ‘red giant’.
By this time, if our planet is still in existence, when the Sun becomes a red giant, it is likely to engulf the poor planet Earth as it does so. Mercury will definitely be the first to go; followed by Venus; then Earth will be third and even the planet Mars which is farther away from the Sun than we are, might need to watch out when this eventually happens.
In the Sun’s last desperate attempt to cling on to some semblance of its life, it will be generating heavier and heavier atoms through nuclear fusion, until eventually it will have completely usurped all of its energy and this will herald the sad final death of this awesome star.
Other stars that are more massive than our Sun (e.g. around 20 times larger), go out in even more style than our Sun will. For a start, they generate even heavier and more complex atoms at the end of their life span; plus when they finally kiss goodbye to this great Universe of ours, they go out in a huge explosion known as a ‘super nova’. Alas, our Sun hasn’t quite got the ‘get-up and go’ in it to hope to go out in such stellar style.
Measuring Distances From The Sun
For any astronomer, when you are talking about distances between any bodies in space, be these planets, stars etc., you will always have to use massive numbers if you are ever attempting to describe these distances in terms which we use here on Earth. For example, we are all comfortable to use either miles or kilometers to describe the distance between towns or countries, but when applying these same measurements to distances in space, they can become notoriously long and difficult to understand.
With this in mind, there is one easy way of trying to understand how far things are between each other in space and this works perfectly well when comparing the distance of other bodies from our Sun. For this we would use what is known as an Astronomical Unit (AU), which is in line with the actual distance between the Earth and Sun: which works out at around 93,000,000 miles or 150,000,000 km.
So, the closest planet to the Sun is Mercury, which is roughly 0.39 AU away. Venus comes next and this planet measures around 0.72 AU from the Sun. The Earth is exactly 1 AU and Mars’s distance from its nearest star is 1.52 AU which would indicate that this planet is half as far again away from the Sun, than we are here on Earth.
Hopefully you are starting to get a feel for how these AU units work by now? So, we can take a look at some of the other planets in the solar system and get an appreciation of just how immensely far they are away from the Sun. Jupiter lies at 5.2 AU from the Sun; Saturn is 9.58; Uranus is 19.23; Neptune is 30.1 and the minor planet of Pluto is 39.3 AU.
Astronomical units work very well to measure the distance within our own back yard (solar system), but when you start to venture out farther into space, again the numbers would become too long. This is when we start to look at light years. A light year is literally billions of miles away and is the distance it takes for the light to reach our eye on Earth, from when it left the original source. A light year is approximately 63,241 AU.
To give you an idea of how far our Sun is from the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, it is thought that this is around 4.2 light years away, which works out at around a massive 268,000 AU. Now that’s a very long way and proves how the light from most of the objects you see in the night sky, would have taken many years to have left that original source in the first place. In other words, the stars you see in the sky at night are not how they may look today, but are actually an historical record from when the light first left them.
Comparing Our Sun With Other Stars?
It is not difficult to comprehend why we all have a definite fondness for the star that shines the most brightly in the sky – our Sun. After all, when the Sun is really shining, our bodies produce vitamin D and this makes us all feel more cheerful and content. However, not wanting to burst this bubble in any way, but it might surprise you to learn that our Sun is actually rather unremarkable when you compare it with other stars.
For a start, our Sun is definitely not as large as many other stars can become. Most of the stars you see shining in the night sky may well have a size and mass that is many times larger than the Sun and this could potentially make our star seem just a little bit dim and feeble in comparison.
It may also be the case that the prick of light you are seeing in the sky at night, is not just one star but what is known as a ‘binary star system’. Binary star systems occur where you have two stars positioned right beside each other and are actually more common than just one lone star on its own – such as our Sun. So again, alas, our Sun is unremarkable for this reason as well.
Other stars in the Universe may be at different stages of their life cycle and this will make them appear more different to our Sun. For example, when a star starts to die, it will become what is known as a ‘red giant’ and this would give this star an appearance that is much larger than the Sun. If a star had a mass that was much larger than our Sun, during its main lifetime, it may well become what is known as a ‘red super giant’. The star ‘Betelgeuse’ (also known as Beetlejuice) is a good example of such a huge object in our own night sky.
Interestingly, this same star is thought to be the most likely for a massive super nova explosion, when it finally gives up the ghost of its life. If this were ever to occur during our lifetime, it would rank as being one of the most fascinating astronomical events you could ever imagine to view with your own bare eyes!
So you see, whilst we all hold a definite deep affection for our very own star, it really is what could be described as a little boring if you compare it with all of the other stars out there. However, it did give us all life and hopefully it will carry on creating life on this planet of ours for many millions of years to come, so this in itself makes the Sun truly remarkable!
Some Unique Sun Facts
- Sun is an old buddy and its age is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years.
- Scientific calculations suggest that Sun has used up at least 50% of all the hydrogen in its core.
- The sun will keep on heating and illuminating the solar system for another 5 billion years after which it will run out of hydrogen.
- Once consumed, the sun will quit emitting heat and light, which would mark the destruction of Solar system including Earth.
- Besides, heat and light, the Sun also emits Solar Winds with the speed of 400-700 km/s, which can disturb radio or wireless communication on Earth and can also render power fluctuations.
- The sun is actually white. The orange effect is created when its light is absorbed through our atmosphere.
- 1.3914 million km is the diameter of The Sun. That’s so big you could fit 109 Earths across its face.
- 521.8 Million is roughly how many years it would take for a human being to walk around the sun.
- 1.3 million is how many Earths you could fit inside The Sun.
- 4.5 billion is the approximate age of the sun, about half way through its life.
- 8 minutes and 20 seconds is how long it takes light from The Sun to reach Earth.
- 5,500 C is the surface temperature of The Sun.
- 99.86% is the amount of mass in our solar system that The Sun accounts for.
Some Interesting Facts About The Sun
With an immense diameter of 1,390,000 km, the Sun is the largest body in our solar system and it actually accounts for a mighty 99.8% of all of the mass within out solar system. This means that a tiny 0.2% is left over to make up all of the planets, comets, asteroids and everything else. Our Sun is one of around 100 billion stars which make up our galaxy known as the Milky Way.
As far as the temperatures of the Sun are concerned: we really are talking about astronomically high values! The surface of the Sun is said to be around 5,500 degrees Celsius and the inside – where nuclear fusion is known to be taking place – is a tremendous and incomprehensible 15 million degrees Celsius.
From time-to-time, parts of the surface of the Sun are cooled down due to magnetic phenomena known as sunspots and these regions appear dark on the surface as a consequence of the fact that they are cooler, at around 3,800 degrees Celsius. Although never recommended for you to look directly at the Sun with your naked eye, theoretically, when sunspots become large enough, it would be possible to catch sight of these from here on Earth.
We are all protected here on Earth from the harmful rays of the Sun through a protective layer known as our atmosphere. If the atmosphere did not exist in its present form, as with many other planets in the solar system, we would quite literally be frazzled by extremely harmful rays.
Another interesting phenomena associated with the Sun is the solar wind and this is basically when protons and electrons have managed to escape from the gravity of the Sun and cross the solar system; often reaching as far as us here on Earth. By the time these tiny particles reach us, they can actually be responsible for problems with things like satellites, radio communications and power grids. But there is one awesome and majestic way in which we are sometimes able to see these solar winds: by way of aurora.
In the Northern Hemisphere, these magical light displays which can cross the whole horizon are known as the Aurora Borealis. But very few of us in the north realize that this same phenomenon actually occurs in the Southern Hemisphere, too, and this is called the Aurora Australis.
As our understanding of meteorology and climatology has grown over recent decades, so we have started to discover more and more how sunspot and solar wind activity can have a profound effect on our climate. This means that the energy we receive from the Sun is not constant and stable, it fluctuates significantly.