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Structure, Size, Distance, Orbit and Rotation - The Sun | 11th Geography : Chapter 2 : The Solar system and the Earth

Chapter: 11th Geography : Chapter 2 : The Solar system and the Earth

The Sun

The Sun is at the centre of our solar system.

The Sun

The Sun is at the centre of our solar system. It is a yellow dwarf star, with a hot ball of glowing gases. Its gravity holds the solar system together and it keeps everything from the biggest planets to the smallest particles of debris in its orbit. Electric currents in the Sun generate a magnetic field that is carried out through the solar system by the solar wind.

Structure of the Sun

By mass, the Sun is made up of about 70.6% hydrogen and 27.4% helium. The Sun's enormous mass is held together by gravitational attraction, producing immense pressure and temperature at its core. There are three main layers in the Sun's interior: the core, the radiative zone, and the convective zone (Figure 2.6). The core is at the centre. It is the hottest region, where the nuclear fusion reaction to give the sun power. Moving outward next come the radiative (or radiation) zone. Its name is derived from the way energy is carried outward through this layer, carried by photons as thermal radiation. The third and final region of the solar interior is named the convective (or convection) zone. It is also named after the dominant mode of energy flow in this layer. The boundary between the Sun's interior and the solar atmosphere is called the photosphere. It is what we see as the visible ‘surface’ of the Sun.

Did you know that the Sun has an atmosphere? The lower region of the solar atmosphere is called the chromosphere. Its name is derived from the Greek word chroma (meaning colour), for it appears bright red when viewed during a solar eclipse. A thin transition region, where temperature rises sharply, separates the chromospheres from the vast corona above. The uppermost portion of the Sun's atmosphere is called the corona, and is surprisingly much hotter than the Sun's surface (photosphere) The upper corona gradually turns into the solar wind. Solar wind is a flow of plasma that moves outward through our solar system into interstellar space.

Therefore, the Sun has six regions: the core, the radioactive zone, and the convective zone in the interior; the photosphere; the chromospheres; and the corona. The temperature of the sun’s surface is about 5,500 to 6,000 degrees Celsius.

At the core, the temperature is about 15 million degrees Celsius, which is sufficient to sustain thermonuclear fusion. This is a process in which atoms combine to form larger atoms and in this process, released, staggering amounts of energy. Specifically, in the Sun’s core, hydrogen atoms fuse to make helium.

Size and Distance

The sun has a radius of 695,508 kilometres. It is far more massive than earth and 3,32,946 Earths equal to the mass of the Sun. The Sun’s volume would need 1.3 million Earths to fill it.

Venus is hotter than Mercury because Venus has an atmosphere which is thicker and made almost entirely of carbon dioxide.

Orbit and Rotation

The Milky Way has four main spiral arms: the Norma and Cygnus arm, Sagittarius, Scutum-Crux, and Perseus. The Sun is located in a minor arm, the Sagittarius arm. From there, the Sun orbits the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy, bringing the planets, asteroids, comets and other objects along with it. Our solar system is moving with an average velocity of 828,000 kilometres per hour. It takes about 230 million years to make one complete orbit around the Milky Way. The Sun’s spin has an axial tilt of 7.25 degrees with respect to the plane of the planets’ orbits. Since the Sun is not a solid body, different parts of the Sun rotate at different rates. At the equator, the Sun spins around once about every 25 days, but at its poles the Sun rotates once on its axis every 36 Earth days. Most of the materials are pulled toward the centre to form our Sun. The Sun alone accounts for 99.8% of the mass of the entire solar system.

Like all stars, the Sun will someday run out of energy. When the Sun starts to die, it will swell so big that it will engulf Mercury and Venus and maybe even Earth. Scientists predict that the Sun is a little less than halfway through its lifetime and will last another 6.5 billion years before it shrinks down to be a white dwarf.

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