About Our Sun

Throughout history people have felt an inexorable draw to the Sun, an irresistible compulsion to set our clocks by its rays, and to honor it as the center of the universe.

When you realize that the Sun makes up 99 percent of all matter in the solar system, it becomes quite understandable.

The word Sun actually comes from sunnon in the oldest proto-Germanic languages, dating as far back as 500 BC. Our own word for this bright yellow orb in the sky first appeared in Old English in Beowulf around 725 AD.

Space shuttle passing in front of sun

Atlantis Shuttle Passing (Transitioning) the Sun

The Sun, the World Over

Have you known a few Sun worshippers in your life, and might you be among them? Legends over centuries past give us stories of Sun worshippers from many eras and from many places all over the globe. Consider how our ancestors from various cultures expressed their respect for the Sun:

  • Ra was the ancient Sun god of the Egyptians. Depicted with the head of a hawk, Ra ruled the sky, the Earth, and the underworld. Ra eventually came to be known as one and the same with Horus, god of the sky, the King, and vengeance. Ra and Horus shared basically the same appearance, although images of Ra depicted a round Sun resting above his head, while Horus wore a red crown. The Egyptians bestowed quite a history on their Sun god: Ra was related to Atum, the god believed responsible for creating the Earth. Horus, on the other hand, was the son of Isis and Osirus, god of the afterlife. Isis served as the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and magic. The Sphinx was built to face east to honor Horus.
  • Maybe you’re more familiar with Apollo, the Greek god of the Sun and sister of Artemis, goddess of the Moon. Most people know Apollo from the mythological adventures told in Homer’s Iliad. However, many people believe that Apollo was just an archer and that Helios was the true god of the Sun. There’s no text that explains the transition from Helios to Apollo.
  • In Japanese culture, Amaterasu came to Earth fathered by Izanagi, the one primal Creator.  This Sun god was actually a woman, a goddess, and she was borne from a single tear shed by Izanagi.
  • The Aztecs had a more warlike sun god, Huitzilopochtli, also spelled Uitzilopochtli, but who’s counting vowels? He was god of the Sun, of war, and of human sacrifice. Legend says when his mother was expecting him, he heard from within the womb of his sister’s plan to kill their mother. When he was born, he came out of the womb in full battle regalia and carrying a knife. Later on, he created the first ball of fire, and his father turned it into the Sun.
  • Hindus worshiped Surya, one of the twelve Adityas that ruled the months of the year. Surya lived in the Sun and he was always depicted with four arms and red skin. Maybe he needed a little more sunblock!
  • Freyr was the Sun god in Nordic mythology. He was madly in love with Gerd, held captive in the underworld. When he bade his servant, Skirnir, to travel to Hades and find her, Skirnir’s journey was marked by the Sun’s travels across the sky.
  • Legends from the northern lands of Great Britain, including Scotland and Ireland, tell us many stories about Sun worshipers. We know very little about the Druids, but it is believed they regarded the Sun as emblematic of their primary deity.

Sunny Side Up

Just how hot is the sun? Scientists estimate that the surface temperature measures about 5505 degrees Celsius or 9941 degrees Fahrenheit. Both the core and the corona are much hotter, with scientists estimating a temperature of 27 million degrees Fahrenheit at the core.  The Sun remains the same constant temperature day in and day out, or so it seems—even though the Sun actually gets a little hotter all the time, over the next few billion years it will go up only a few degrees.

It’s amazing how many people think the Sun is farther away from our planet during the winter months. The truth is that Sun is actually a tad closer during the winter months. However, the Earth’s tilt on its axis away from the Sun during winter months creates a longer angle for the Sun’s light, with the sunshine that reaches us elongated over the Earth’s surface, and so it is a little cooler than what we feel during the summer months.

Did you think the Sun just sits around all day shining? No, sir. It’s made up of three parts hydrogen to one part helium, and it spends the whole day fusing hydrogen atoms into helium. This means it’s called a “main sequence” star, which generates the energy that keeps it burning. And the Sun is not really yellow, by the way—it’s white. An optical illusion of light called Rayleigh scattering, named after a British scientist, gives us a theory of particle physics that makes the Sun appear to be yellow, at least to our eyes.  It’s the same phenomenon that renders the sky blue.

The Sun is a big old thing. Scientists say it’s 109 times the size of Earth, at 1,392,000 km (864,948 miles). It’s always about 149,668,992 km (93,000,000 miles) away from Earth. As mentioned previously, it represents 99% of all the matter in the Solar System.  The Sun takes about 225 million years to travel around the Milky Way, and that is what we call a Solar Year. The next closest star is Proxima Centauri, about 26 trillion miles away.

Storms, Spots, Black Holes, and Novas

What are solar storms? They have the power to knock out our power grids and interrupt sensitive electronic devices. In a storm that took place in early 2012, Delta Airlines rerouted six airplanes that were supposed to travel over the North Pole.  Generally they are caused when a CME occurs—a coronal mass ejection of intense energy ejected from the Sun’s surface.

Sunspots mostly occur around or below the Sun’s equator. They result from interaction of the Sun’s gases with its magnetic fields. Scientists have noted that the Sun cycles through increasing and then decreasing magnetic activity every eleven years—a unit of measurement that they call the solar cycle—but even they are not certain when one cycle ends and another begins.

Solar flares occur when energy creates outward explosions on the Sun’s surface, but they remain invisible to us because they are eclipsed by the Sun’s natural radiance.

Black holes occur when a star dies. After its nova, it collapses into itself. With an intense gravitational force, it remains compacted so densely that light cannot escape from it. Only massive stars can become black holes—a size about three times that of the Sun. So if you’re worried about the Sun becoming a black hole, you can set your mind at rest!

Many people do continue to worry about the Sun burning out, however. So just how long is it expected to last? According to Dr. Eric Christian of NASA, Scientists believe it’s got a lifespan of about 10 billion years. So far they think it’s 4.7 billion years old. So we have a long time to go until our Sun’s nova. Get out your sunglasses, hop into a hammock, and relax!

You’ll also discover some interesting Solar System Facts here

Read More About It

Cosmicopia, by NASA. Ask Us – The Sun, at

http://helios.gsfc.nasa.gov/qa_sun.html#sunlife

Solar System Exploration, The Sun. NASA website at

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Sun

How OMG

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