The Sun - Known Facts

About the sun, what scientific facts are known including trivia about energy, light, and mass.


Known Facts: Without the sun's energy, life on Earth couldn't exist. Each square centimeter of the sun's surface radiates energy equivalent to a 9-hp engine. The earth receives only a small portion of that energy, a total of some 4,690,000 hp per sq. mi.

For a long time the source of the sun's enormous energy remained a perplexing mystery. Very early theories proposed that it was a gigantic burning lump of coal. But it was quickly obvious that such a source would have burned out a long time ago. It was later suggested that the sun was a burning ball of hydrogen and oxygen, but even that couldn't account for its tremendous energy output. In the 1930s it became apparent that the only form of energy that could keep the sun burning for billions of years had to be nuclear energy. Science now holds that this is the case, and that the so-called "proton-proton chain" is the nuclear mechanism involved. In the proton-proton chain, a mass of hydrogen is transformed by thermonuclear process into a slightly smaller mass of helium. The residual mass is then released in the form of energy--according to Einstein's formula, E = mc2?--with each gram of material producing approximately 22 trillion calories of energy. In this reaction, the sun loses 4 million tons of mass every second! A frightening number, but given the sun's total mass, it comes out to merely 7% of the mass of the sun being converted every trillion years.

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