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The Sun

The Sun

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Published by Tweetie
Study aid for Astronomy. All you need to know about the Sun, our most important resources of life.
Study aid for Astronomy. All you need to know about the Sun, our most important resources of life.

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Published by: Tweetie on Oct 18, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Sun
- Particles and antiparticles disappear when they collide, releasing a lot of energy in the process.
Black Body Radiation
- The thermal emission of a body that does not reflect light. At thetemperature of a human body, its emission lies at wavelengths longer than the visible light, but the thermal emission of the Sun is in the visible portion of the spectrum.
Tycho Brahe
- Danish astronomer (1546-1601) who built the largest naked eyeastronomical observatory in modern Europe. He made countless observations of the positionof Marsand other celestial bodies.More on Brahe in relation to the Scientific Revolution.
- A type of motion found in a gas or liquid when there is a temperaturedifference between separate regions. For instance, in boiling pot of water, the water closer tothe flame becomes warmer and, correspondingly, becomes less dense. The hot watertherefore rises to the surface, pushing the warmer and cooler water into contact and thenpushing the cooler water down. This mechanism exchanges heat between warmer and coolerregions.
- Mass per unit volume.
Emission Lines
- Particular and discrete wavelengths at which atoms emit light. A florescent bulb exclusively emits lines.
Galileo Galilei
- Italian astronomer and physicist (1564-1642) who first utilized thetelescope for astronomical observations. His discoveries lent credibility to the heliocentricmodel of Copernicusand made it easier forNewtonto write his laws of gravity and motion. SeeGalileo's SparkNote biography .
Johannes Kepler
- German astronomer (1571-1630), his mentor was Tycho Brahe. Hecompleted Brahe's observations of the position of Marsand was finally able to pin down itsorbit. He realized thatplanets follow elliptical, rather than circular, orbits around the Sun.He was an ardent proponent of the heliocentric model. More on Kepler in relation to theScientific Revolution
- The large region surrounding theEarthwhere the Earth's magneticfield is strong enough to deflect the solar wind.
Nuclear Reactions
- Nuclear reactions are reactions involving the nuclei of atoms. Nucleiare charged positively and repel each other. Only at the high temperatures inside the Sun are
the collisions among nuclei violent enough to bring the nuclei together, in a process callednuclear fusion.
Peak Emission
- The wavelengths around which the electromagnetic emission of the Sunis strongest, corresponding to the maximum sensitivity of the human eye.
- The longest and shortest days of the year.
- The range of different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation emitted by aparticular body.
- Light with a wavelength shorter than the color violet, invisible to the humaneye.
- Light of wavelength shorter than ultraviolet, invisible to human eye.
By far, the Sun is the most massive body in our solar system. The mass of all the planetscombined is only about 0.2% of the Sun's mass. The Sun is also the only object whoseinternal temperature is high enough to produce nuclear reactions. If Jupiterhad been 100times more massive, or 1/10 of the mass of the Sun, ours would have been a binary starsystem. While gas giant planets such as Jupiter do emit more energy than they receive fromthe Sun, only the Sun owes its internal pressure to nuclear fusion.Nuclear fusion generates all the power emitted by our star. This energy heats up the gas to very high temperatures. The Sun shines because it is made of incandescent gas, with asurface temperature of about 5,800 K. Because of its high temperature, the Sun emits light ina widespectrumof wavelengths, with a peak in what we consider the 'visible' part of thespectrum.The fact that our eyes are sensitive to light of wavelengths corresponding to the Sun'speak emissionis no coincidence, of course. Most of the other light from our Sun fortunately doesnot reach the ground, since our atmosphere absorbs it. If ult raviolet andX-ray radiationreached theEarth's surface, they would be devastating to on our planet.The portion of the light that we receive from the Sun powers all atmospheric phenomena,and ultimately life itself. Far from having a uniform surface and from emitting a constantamount of energy per unit time, the Sun is very dynamic and displays activity cycles. The bestknown is the eleven-year cycle, during which the number of sunspots and other disturbancesof the solar atmosphere greatly change in number and intensity.The eleven-year cycle is intimately connected with the intensity of the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted by our star that continuously collides with the Earth'smagnetosphere. At times, solar eruptions give rise to ejections of gas t hat stream out of the
Sun and reach the Earth. The strong flow of particles thus generated can be quite dangerousfor the network of communication satellites orbiting our planet.
The Sun through History 
The Sun has been an essential part of human culture and mythology since prehistoric times.The obvious reason is that the Sun's position in the sky is linked with the seasonal changes onEarth, and seasons have had a great importance both for agricultural and pre-agriculturalsocieties. This point is clearly illustrated by the tremendous effort that ancient people putinto building structures like Stonehenge at a time when no technology other than ropes wasavailable to transport boulders weighing several tons. It is now believed that the orientationof the temple/observatory at Stonehenge and other such monuments was chosen so as tomark the Sun's solstices, and to celebrate the change of the seasons.In classical Greece, and throughout the Renaissance, the Sun was believed to be made of 'ethereal' matter, i.e. perfect and devoid of any blemishes. The same substance was believedto make up all planets and the Moon as well, and the uneven tint of the Moon was explainedaway by our satellite's vicinity to the Earth. The Earth, contrary to celestial objects, wassupposed to be made of corruptible elements.Given this premise,Galileo's detailed telescopic observation of the Sun in 1610 caused quite astir.Galileoshowed that the Sun has spots on its surface and rotates with a period of about27 days. Although Chinese astronomers had already observed sunspots with the naked eye,this fact was not known in the West. Galileo's observation, together with the others he madeof the solar system, were instrumental in the acceptance of the modern view of the universe, where the same physics applies to the Sun as to any other object, and laboratory experimentson Earth can have universal application.In the 19th century another debate ensued centering on the reach of scientific knowledge,and once again the Sun was the protagonist. The French philosopher Auguste Comte claimedthat, given that we cannot access stars and other astronomical bodies directly, there could beno chance of humanity ever being able to know what exactly they are made of. As it oftenturns out in the history of science, one should never say never. Around the same period that Comte made his sweeping statement, it was discovered thatdifferent elements, when in gaseous form, absorb light passing through them in a very particular way: only light of particular wavelengths get absorbed, and such wavelengthsdepend on the element making up the gas. Armed with this knowledge, based on Earth labexperiments, Kirchhoff and Bunsen showed in 1859 that the atmosphere of the Sun wasmade of hydrogen as well as other known elements.

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