18 of the most surprising facts about the Sun

The Sun, a yellow dwarf star that resides at the center of our solar system, is responsible for making our home planet, Earth, an inhabitable one. With its huge size and tremendous mass, the Sun emanates a powerful magnetic field as well as gravitational forces that attract the various objects of the solar system, preventing them from scattering away. The volume of the Sun is so great that it would be possible to fit approximately 1.3 million Earths inside of it.

When digging deeper into the structure of the Sun, you will find that the Sun possesses multiple layers. At its center exists an energy producer known as the “core.” It is at this interior level where the hydrogen fusion process takes place. The Sun’s core fuses about 600 million tons of hydrogen every single second. The resulting heat and wind are ultimately transmitted into space.

1. 1.3 million Earths can fit inside the Sun.

The Sun, with a volume of 1.41 x 1027 m3, is large enough to contain an estimated 1.3 million Earths.

2. Every second, the Sun converts about 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium.

The extreme pressure and gravitational forces produced by the Sun make the hydrogen fusion process possible. During this process, around 4 out of 600 million tons of hydrogen are converted into energy every second.

3. The Sun’s core temperature reaches 15 million degrees Celsius.

At the Sun’s core, where the nuclear hydrogen reaction takes place, the temperature is about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius). The nuclear fusion process happens when hydrogen atoms fuse, or combine, to form helium atoms (larger atoms).[1]

4. The Sun’s mass consists of 70.6% hydrogen and 27.4% helium.

The mass of the Sun is 1.989 x 1030 kg. About 70.6% of this mass is composed of hydrogen, while the remaining 27.4% is made up of helium. When compared with Earth, we discover that the Sun is 330,000 times more massive.

5. The Sun is middle-aged.

Scientists predict that the Sun has burned through a little less than half of its stored hydrogen. What remains may last for 6.5 billion more years.

6. Different parts of the Sun rotate at different rates.

As the Sun is gaseous, and thus is not composed of solid matter, different parts of the Sun rotate at different rates. The Sun’s equator, for example, rotates faster than the Sun’s poles. The Sun spins once around itself every 25 days when measured at its equator. However, if measured at its poles, the Sun requires 36 days to spin around itself completely.

7. Many stars are hotter and more massive than the Sun.

Compared with other stars, the Sun appears colder. The core temperatures of some stars reach up to 200 million degrees Fahrenheit (110 million degrees Celsius), which is around 7.3 times hotter than the Sun’s core (which, mentioned previously, heats up to 27 million degrees Fahrenheit or 15 million degrees Celsius).

8. Sunlight is a mixture of all the colors of the rainbow, thus appearing white to our eyes.

9. Without the Sun, the eight planets of the solar system would scatter away.

The enormous mass of the Sun produces a powerful gravitational pull that attracts all of the eight planets in our solar system, effectually enabling them to maintain their orbits. Without the central gravitational pull provided by the Sun, all of the planets in our solar system would scatter away until they fell into the orbit of another planetary object.

10. In the future, the Sun might engulf the Earth.

Like all stars, the Sun is eventually going to consume all of its fuel. After burning through all of its available hydrogen, the Sun will continue burning helium for 130 million more years, leading to its expansion. Ultimately, such expansion will prove catastrophic as the Sun swallows Mercury, Venus, and Earth whole.

11. The Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

The Sun orbiting the Milky Way Galaxy
Credit: NASA

The solar system, which includes the Sun, 8 planets, asteroids, comets, and other astronomical objects, revolves around the center of the Milky Way at a velocity of 720,000 km/h (450,000 miles per hour). Even though the Sun’s velocity of revolution sounds extraordinarily rapid, it astoundingly takes around 230 million years for the Sun to orbit the Milky Way just once.

12. The Sun is composed of six regions.

The Sun's structure
Credit: NASA

The six regions of the Sun are:

  1. The core: The central region of the Sun (this is also where nuclear fusion reactions occur).
  2. The radiative zone. 
  3. The convective zone: The zone in the Sun’s internal structure.
  4. The photosphere: The visible surface of the Sun and the boundary between the Sun’s interior and the solar atmosphere.
  5. The chromosphere: The lower region of the solar atmosphere.
  6. The corona: The uppermost portion of the Sun’s atmosphere. Its temperature rises higher than the surface.

13. The energy produced in the Sun’s core takes about 170,000 years to move from the core to the top of the convective zone.

14. The Sun’s surface is 300 miles (500 km) in depth.

The Sun’s surface (photosphere), the layer where the Sun’s radiation escapes, is roughly 300 miles (500 km) thick. It is very thin compared to the Sun’s overall radius, which equals 700,000 km.

15. Total solar eclipses allow us to catch sight of the chromosphere and corona layers of the Sun.

The Solar Eclipse
Credit: NASA

Due to the photosphere’s (the Sun’s visible surface layer) high level of brightness, it is exceedingly difficult to make out the layers of the chromosphere and corona with the naked eye. However, during total solar eclipses when the moon covers the photosphere, we are granted the opportunity to catch a glimpse of these elusive regions of the Sun as the chromosphere acts like a red frame around the Sun, while the corona appears as a white crown.

16. The upcoming dates to view the annular and total solar eclipses.

A solar eclipse happens when a new moon becomes positioned between Earth and the Sun, blocking some or all of the Sun’s rays from reaching the earth.

 

The best upcoming dates to view the solar eclipses are as follows:

 

  1.  December 26, 2019, June 21, 2020, June 10, 2021(Annular Solar Eclipse): The annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is too far away from the Earth, blocking most of the Sun’s light and creating what looks like a ring in the sky.

 

  1. December 14, 2020, December 4, 2021 (Total Solar Eclipse): A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon completely blocks the Sun’s surface, allowing the Sun’s chromosphere and corona layers to appear. The chromosphere acts like a red frame around the Sun, while the corona appears as a white crown. The total solar eclipse endows our sky with a spectacular display of color and contrast, though only briefly.

17. The Sun releases a constant stream of particles and magnetic fields, known as “solar wind.”

18. The Sun’s magnetic polarity is continuously changing.

The magnetic polarity of the Sun’s geographic poles changes approximately every 11 years. When the magnetic polarity alters, the photosphere, chromosphere, and corona layers become hyperactive, propagating tremendous amounts of energy and particles into space.[1]

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