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10 fascinating facts about the Sun

Updated on March 18, 2016

The Sun

The Sun's image captured by NASA's SDO
The Sun's image captured by NASA's SDO | Source

The sun is the center of our solar system. The distance between earth and the sun is about 149.60 million kilometers. If we could somehow fly an airplane to the sun, it would actually take 26 years! The sun is almost a perfect sphere and is composed of mostly ionized gas (hydrogen and helium). The sun is the reason why we have seasons, ocean currents, weather and climate.

We all like to talk about the sun; after all it is the sun that gives us immense amount of energy with which we survive. In fact, one has to explode 100 billion tons of dynamite every second to match the energy produced by the sun! Without the sun our planet would have been a dead planet. Let’s check out some of the interesting facts about our sun, I bet you didn’t know some of them!

1. The Sun contains 99.86% of all matter in our solar system

Yes that’s right, the sun contains most of the mass in the solar system and most of the remianing 0.2% comes from Jupiter. The sun’s mass is almost about 330,000 times than that of the Earth. Around 74% of the Sun’s mass is made up of hydrogen. Helium makes up around 24% and the remaining percentage is composed of other heavier elements such as oxygen, carbon, iron, and neon.

2. The Sun could fit 1 million earths inside

If our Sun was a hollow sphere it could fit about 960,000 Earths inside and if we could compress these Earths so that there was no space left in them, then the Sun could fit 1,300,000 Earths inside it. The Sun's radius is about 432,470 miles, which is equal to 109 Earth radii.

3. The Sun has a powerful magnetic field

The Sun generates a powerful magnetic field that extends out into space just like Earth. Sunspots are regions of very strong magnetic field. These magnetic lines are twisted and are so packed together that they push up through the surface and brings some of the hot plasma with them in a loop. Sunspots are darker regions because they are about one third cooler than the surrounding materials. Sunspot numbers fluctuate every 11 years.

The Sun's magnetic map created by NASA

The Sun's magnetic map created by NASA
The Sun's magnetic map created by NASA | Source

Largest sunspot of the solar cycle

Image taken by NASA's SDO shows a huge sunspot named AR2191
Image taken by NASA's SDO shows a huge sunspot named AR2191 | Source

4. It takes eight minutes for light to reach Earth from the Sun

As mentioned earlier, the distance between the Sun and Earth is about 150 million kilometers. The speed of light is 300,000 kilometers per second. Therefore dividing the first number by the second we get the average time of 500 seconds, or eight minutes and 20 seconds that light takes to reach Earth from the Sun. Interestingly, this energy takes only a few minutes to reach Earth, but it takes millions of years to travel from the Sun’s core to its surface.

5. The Sun will destroy Earth one day

Scientists predict that the Sun is halfway through its lifetime. It will be 10% brighter than today after about 1.1 billion years from now and will be 40% brighter than today after about 3.5 billion years from now. The heat from the Sun will be intense enough to burn all the liquid water on the surface of the Earth, and as a result, life on Earth as we know it will be gone forever (assuming we won’t destroy Earth ourselves by then)

After about 5.4 billion years from now, the Sun's core will run out of Hydrogen and start burning Helium. After about 7.7 billion years from now, it will expand by 200 times and will become a red giant star engulfing Mercury, Venus and Earth. The Sun will become a White dwarf after about 7.9 billion years from now, then it will remain as a White dwarf indefinitely.

Fortunately, we still have time to find a new home!

6. Ancient cultures saw the Sun as God

Many beliefs in ancient civilizations were based on the presence of the Sun because of the Sun’s influence on Earth. In fact, many early cultures saw the Sun as a deity or god. For example, Ancient Egyptians had a Sun god called Ra, in Aztec mythology there is a Sun god named Tonatiuh.

NASA's 5 minute time lapse video of the Sun

7. The Sun travels at 220 kilometers per second

The Sun is travelling at 220 km per second. It is around 24,000-26,000 light years from the center of our Milky Way galaxy and lies on one of its spiral arms. It takes approximately 240 million years for the Sun to complete one orbit of the center of the Milky Way. Since its formation, the Sun has circled the Milky Way galaxy for about 20 times.

8. Rotation of the Sun

The Sun rotates in the opposite direction to Earth. The Sun rotates from west to east and Earth rotates from east to west. Another interesting thing about the Sun’s rotation is that it rotates more quickly at its equator than close to the poles. The Sun’s rotation period in the equator is about 25 days, and in the polar regions the rotation period is 36 days. This is known as differential rotation.

9. Temperature of the Sun

The surface temperature of the Sun is about 5500 degrees Celsius, more than 15 times as hot as boiling water. But inside the core of the Sun temperatures can reach 15.7 million degrees (15,000,000) Celsius, more than 40 thousand times as hot as boiling water. The Sun generates huge amounts of energy by combining hydrogen nuclei into helium. This process is called nuclear fusion; it is the same reaction that occurs in a Hydrogen bomb. Because the Sun’s gravitational pull is so strong, it does not explode like a giant bomb.

10. Our Sun is not alone

Our Sun is one of about 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the Universe. In fact, there are more stars out there in space than there are grains of sand on Earth. It’s very much likely that each of these billions of stars have their own planetary systems. There are over one hundred confirmed planets of other stars in our galaxy found by NASA's Kepler mission.

There are many other interesting things that we know about the Sun, some of them we are still investigating or do not completely understand. Here is one bonus fact about the Sun. Did you know that ancient people believed the Earth was the center of our solar system? Although Nicolaus Copernicus published his Sun-centered model of the solar system in 1543, it was not until the 1700s the idea of a Sun-centered system became widely accepted.

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