The sun is without a doubt the most important thing in our solar system aside from the Earth (and technically the moon). But how much do you really know about it? Join us as we give you a brief history of our sun.
The Birth Of Sun
Long before our solar system was born, the universe was a big wasteland of nothing. Or at the very least, that’s what we believe it was. Then, through one means or another, there was an event known as the Big Bang. This expansion of energy and matter spread throughout the universe both known and unknown and created a great many things. And when it didn’t specifically create something, it left the building blocks to all things to be made.
In regards to our solar system, that would be what is known as the Solar Nebula. Or to break it down for you, a massive cloud of gasses and matter and particles and molecules. This reached out over 100 AU (astronomical units, AKA 100 times the distance between us and the sun) and it was the true building blocks of our universe.
But…how does that work? How does it go from a massive cloud to a bright ball of warmth and energy we call the sun?
The answer to that is time, pressure, and a little bit of luck. Most scientists who believe in the Solar Nebula theory understand the concept of the cloud being there and then somehow starting to make the planets and the sun. But what many aren’t sure about is the actual ‘event’ that led to it folding in upon itself.
Meaning? Meaning…there isn’t a giant cloud of dust and such right outside our planet, right? Something had to trigger the cloud to compress, to fold in on itself to make things that wasn’t just gasses, and no one is really sure how that happened. Some think it was the byproduct of a nearby supernova, but it’s all just speculation. We talked about in this post.
What we do know (or at least can theorize) is that when this started to happen, when the Solar Nebula started to destabilize, it compressed upon itself, and when you have a massive thing of gas folding in on itself, things tend to get massive.
And as the cloud began to compress, it also started spinning, until eventually there was a giant pancake disc spinning around in our solar system. Not exactly a sun, but a big step in getting there.
In fact, most label this as a “Protostar”, and when that happened the sun was born…right?
Not exactly. Because while it was a protostar, it was still a pancake. It’s estimated that over the next 50 million years that the sun slowly gathered more mass and more energy from the cloud. Likely due to its spinning nature and the gravity it was exuding.
Eventually, once it got enough mass and energy, the process of nuclear fusion began in the sun, and that led it to being the big ball of light and “fire” that we call the sun. So a major piece of our solar system had been made.
All told, our sun is believed to be as old, or pretty close to being as old, as our whole solar system. Which would mean that right now, our sun is about 4.6 billion years old. And yet it doesn’t look a day under 3 billion.
Alright, so now you know how the sun was born, but how much do you know about it stat wise?
For example, do you know how big the sun is across its diameter? Take a second, I’ll let you think of a number, no cheating though!
How Big Is The Sun
Ready? Did you guess…864,340 miles across? Then you would be right. Our sun is that big in its length that it’s 109 times the size of Earth in regards to its diameter. In terms of weight, the sun is 330,000 times as heavy. And to top it all off, if we wanted to fill up the sun with Earths, we would need about 1.3 million of them to fill up that giant ball of gas in the sky above. It’s truly astounding, isn’t it? We look up at the sky, and the sun seems small, or if you look at it during a sunrise or sunset, it looks much bigger, and yet still very small in comparison to what is all around you.
But that’s the trick, because the sun is 93 million miles away from the Earth right now, it looks smaller because of that distance. When in fact, it’s bigger than we are, or we will ever be. Does that mean that we should fear the sun though? Not exactly, not in the ways you might be thinking. Because if the sun were any bigger, or any smaller, the Earth would be in serious trouble overall.
How does that work?
Think about it, the Earth right now is a haven for life, and the sun is a major part of that no matter how you look at it. The sun above gives us light for us to see, which in the days before technology was a godsend. That same light also brings warmth to the planet, and yet isn’t so hot that it burns our skin (outside of massive exposure on a hot day obviously) or make us try and get into cooler spaces so we don’t get hurt. Then, because of our atmosphere, the harmful radiation of our sun is filtered out so that it doesn’t hurt us on the insides and the outsides, which is something that often gets forgotten when talking about the sun and the Earth. But that’s the thing, IF the sun was any closer, or any farther from where it is right now…the Earth would either be screwed, barren, or unable to produce life. And we have proof of that via the planets that are right next to us.
If we were closer to the sun, then we’d be a lot more like Venus. The heat would roast us alive and make the average temperature in the hundreds of degrees and not the dozens like we have now. Whether the Greenhouse Effect would happen to us like Venus is a bit up for debate, but it definitely is a possibility. On the other side of the equation, if we were any farther away from the sun, we’d be like Mars. Too far away to truly get the warmth that it provides. You could argue that some of the things that happened on Mars wouldn’t happen on Earth, such as the whole in the atmosphere that drained away its oceans once, but it still would make things harder to live with. As if that wasn’t enough proof that we got lucky with our sun, the sun’s type is also a big reason why we’re so good here on Earth. You see, our sun is what is known as a Yellow Dwarf star, and its average temperature is about 4000 Kelvin.
Why is that important?
Well, it matters because that helps determine how much power it gives off. What gets lost in translation in regards to the sun heating the Earth is that the energy is dissipated over the course of 93 million miles. But, that means that the “cooled off” energy when it reaches us is just what we need to live. Hence again why Venus and Mars aren’t good places to live because they get too much energy or too little. As for how much energy the sun actually exudes, that would be 38,460 Septillion Watts. If you need a number to that, that’s 26 zeros at the end of that number, and it does that PER SECOND. The catch is that while it makes it, it dissipates quickly. Which we should be grateful for.
Not to mention that that amount of energy would be incredibly dangerous if it reached Earth in its raw form. It’d be about 1.82 billion nuclear devices going off at one time, per second. I wouldn’t want to be on the broadside of that, would you?
When Will The Sun Die
So…let’s ask the now obvious question….when will the sun die? Or more accurately, HOW will the sun die?
Well…that’s the thing.
Technically speaking, it won’t “die”, it’ll just be in the next phase of its life. You see, the sun is basically a fusion reaction, and because of that, it burns the gases within itself in order to light everything and make energy. But eventually, it’s going to run out of some of the gases that keep it as a yellow dwarf star. And what happens then is that it’ll start to burn brighter and hotter than ever before. I know that may sound counterintuitive, but that’s what happens. It’s burning hydrogen right now, and that’s what we’re feeling in terms of the warmth, is the energy from that hydrogen. But eventually, that’ll run out, and it’ll start to burn things from deeper within its core, and that’ll cause the star to burn brighter.
In about a billion years?
That’ll mean that the sun will be 10% brighter. By 5 billion years? It’ll be 67% brighter, and it’ll keep going until it reaches its Red Giant phase of life in about 7.5 billion years. When that happens, the sun will grow exponentially in size and swallow up everything from where it is now to about…Jupiter. So yes, that means that the sun is going to kill the Earth eventually if given the chance. One thing you might be thinking based on that somewhat scary revelation about the sun is that “it would be better if it just disappeared!” Except, that would cause a whole slew of other problems.
Especially if it was to happen while life was still on Earth. You see, what people forget about is that we actually orbit the sun. We’re constantly in its gravitational pull. Thus why we and all the other planets and moons and rocks in the solar systems without their own momentum is pulled by it. So you need to ask yourselves, what happens if that gravity…that pull…that binding force…stops binding our planet? With a guiding body, our planet stays exactly where it is within its orbit. However, without one, Earth would literally start careening through the stars in whatever direction it was heading before the sun itself went out. I’m sure I don’t have to spell out all the havoc that would wreak on our planet.
But I’ll give you some hope, we wouldn’t have to worry about it for long because we wouldn’t last long without our orbit around the sun. Because without that binding force, there’s nothing stopping us from colliding into other things in our solar system. As you might know, there are asteroid belts, and comets, and other stars and planets out there. The sun was actually protecting us from hitting those things via its orbit paths. But without one? It’s going to be a game of galactic pinball.
Except we’re not going to just bounce off unscathed. For example, if we were to collide with an asteroid it could literally wipe out our planet in a fraction of a minute. Or worse yet, we could literally collide with an entire planet! One that would absorb us, burn us, gas us, or another other variety of things. So between all of these factors, I think you can admit, that if the sun were to suddenly disappear, we wouldn’t last very long. Or, let’s say we somehow survive in orbit (somehow) without a sun, without it, we’d freeze. To be fair, we won’t “insta-freeze”.
That’s not how it works.
Not unlike you can’t freeze a meal just by putting it in the freezer for a few seconds or a minute. In fact, most scientists agree that if the sun went out for only a day, not much would happen. Our atmosphere is capable of holding in its own heat. Which is actually magnified thanks to our use of fossil fuels. Hence Global Warming. And so it goes to reason that our planet would be able to last temperature-wise…for a little bit. After about a week of no sunlight or warmth though, the average temperature of the Earth would be around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s not only cold, that’s below freezing, which would allow a bunch of ice and snow to form on the planet. Both on the land and the oceans themselves.
Scientists believe that in a year’s time, the average temperature on Earth would be -100 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s when the ocean would freeze on the surface more than likely. Which would be another nail in the coffin of the planet because we rely on the oceans for many things, and if they’re frozen on top, it’ll lead to many disasters. Many who study the possibility of the sun going out feel that if humanity needed a solution, we could simply tunnel look to the inside of our planet and use the Earth’s core to try and heat ourselves. Not unlike how many geothermal vents do in the oceans themselves. That potentially could work, but there are many issues with that. Not the least of which is that would need to be done for the WHOLE planet, and humanity would need to be close enough together to feel that kind of warmth. And do recall, this would only be one problem that would need to be solved in order to save our planet.
Thankfully for us all, this is just a hypothetical situation. The sun is very much fine, and even with some of the other things going on with Earth right now, the sun is still doing its job, and it’ll continue to do that job for many generations. And for that, we should be grateful.