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The sun is a star, just like the other stars we see at night.

The difference is distance -- the other


stars we see are light-years away, while our sun is only about 8 light minutes away -- many
thousands of times closer. Officially, the sun is classified as a G2 type star, based on its
temperature and the wavelengths or spectrum of light that it emits. There are lots of G2s out
there, and Earth's sun is merely one of billions of stars that orbit the center of our galaxy, made
up of the same substance and components.
The sun is composed of gas. It has no solid surface. However, it still has a defined structure. The
three major structural areas of the sun are shown in the upper half of Figure 1. They include:

Core -- The center of the sun, comprising 25 percent of its radius.

Radiative zone --The section immediately surrounding the core, comprising 45 percent
of its radius.

Convective zone -- The outermost ring of the sun, comprising the 30 percent of its
radius.

Above the surface of the sun is its atmosphere, which consists of three parts, shown in the lower
half of Figure 1:

Photosphere -- The innermost part of the sun's atmosphere and the only part we can see.

Chromosphere -- The area between the photosphere and the corona; hotter than the
photosphere.

Corona -- The extremely hot outermost layer, extending outward several million miles
from the chromosphere.

All of the major features of the sun can be explained by the nuclear reactions that produce its
energy, by the magnetic fields resulting from the movements of the gas and by its immense
gravity.
It begins at the core.

Parts" of the Sun


The solar interior includes the core, radiative zone and convective zone. The photosphere is the
visible surface of the Sun. The solar atmosphere includes the chromosphere and corona.
Credit: SOHO (ESA & NASA)
What are the "parts" of the Sun? Scientists who study the Sun usually divide it up into three main
regions: the Sun's interior, the solar atmosphere, and the visible "surface" of the Sun which lies
between the interior and the atmosphere.

There are three main parts to the Sun's interior: the core, the radiative zone, and the convective
zone. The core is at the center. It the hottest region, where the nuclear fusion reactions that power
the Sun occur. Moving outward, next comes 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; heat moves upward
via roiling convection, much like the bubbling motion in a pot of boiling oatmeal.
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. The photosphere is not like the surface of a
planet; even if you could tolerate the heat you couldn't stand on it.
Did you know that the Sun has an atmosphere? The lower region of the solar atmosphere is
called the chromosphere. Its name comes from the Greek root chroma (meaning color), for it
appears bright red when viewed during a solar eclipse. A thin transition region, where
temperatures rise sharply, separates the chromosphere 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, a
flow of plasma that moves outward through our solar system into interstellar space. The solar
wind is, in a sense, just an extension of the Sun's atmosphere that engulfs all of the planets. Earth
actually orbits within the atmosphere of a star!
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma,
[13][14]
with internal convective motion that generates a magnetic field via a dynamo process.[15] It
is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. Its diameter is about 109 times
that of Earth, and its mass is about 330,000 times that of Earth, accounting for about 99.86% of
the total mass of the Solar System.[16] About three quarters of the Sun's mass consists of
hydrogen; the rest is mostly helium, with much smaller quantities of heavier elements, including
oxygen, carbon, neon, and iron.[17]
The Sun is a G-type main-sequence star (G2V) based on spectral class and is informally referred
to as a yellow dwarf. It formed approximately 4.6 billion[a][9][18] years ago from the gravitational
collapse of matter within a region of a large molecular cloud. Most of this matter gathered in the
center, whereas the rest flattened into an orbiting disk that became the Solar System. The central
mass became so hot and dense, that it eventually initiated nuclear fusion in its core. It is thought
that almost all stars form by this process.
The Sun is roughly middle-aged and has not changed dramatically for over four billion[a] years,
and will remain fairly stable for more than another five billion years. However, after hydrogen
fusion in its core has stopped, the Sun will undergo severe changes and become a red giant. It is
calculated that the Sun will become sufficiently large to engulf the current orbits of Mercury,
Venus, and possibly Earth.

The enormous effect of the Sun on Earth has been recognized since prehistoric times, and the
Sun has been regarded by some cultures as a deity. The synodic rotation of Earth and its orbit
around the Sun are the basis of the solar calendar, which is the predominant calendar in use
today.

The Life Cycle Of The Sun


Article Updated: 9 May , 2016
by Matt Williams
The Sun has always been the center of our cosmological systems. But with the advent of modern
astronomy, humans have become aware of the fact that the Sun is merely one of countless stars
in our Universe. In essence, it is a perfectly normal example of a G-type main-sequence star
(G2V, aka. yellow dwarf). And like all stars, it has a lifespan, characterized by a formation,
main sequence, and eventual death.
This lifespan began roughly 4.6 billion years ago, and will continue for about another 4.5 5.5
billion years, when it will deplete its supply of hydrogen, helium, and collapse into a white
dwarf. But this is just the abridged version of the Suns lifespan. As always, God (or the Devil,
depending on who you ask) is in the details!
To break it down, the Sun is about half way through the most stable part of its life. Over the
course of the past four billion years, during which time planet Earth and the entire Solar System
was born, it has remained relatively unchanged. This will stay the case for another four billion
years, at which point, it will have exhausted its supply of hydrogen fuel. When that happens,
some pretty drastic things will take place!

The Birth of the Sun:


According to Nebular Theory, the Sun and all the planets of our Solar System began as a giant
cloud of molecular gas and dust. Then, about 4.57 billion years ago, something happened that
caused the cloud to collapse. This could have been the result of a passing star, or shock waves
from a supernova, but the end result was a gravitational collapse at the center of the cloud.
From this collapse, pockets of dust and gas began to collect into denser regions. As the denser
regions pulled in more and more matter, conservation of momentum caused it to begin rotating,
while increasing pressure caused it to heat up. Most of the material ended up in a ball at the
center while the rest of the matter flattened out into disk that circled around it.
The ball at the center would eventually form the Sun, while the disk of material would form the
planets. The Sun spent about 100,000 years as a collapsing protostar before temperature and
pressures in the interior ignited fusion at its core. The Sun started as a T Tauri star a wildly

active star that blasted out an intense solar wind. And just a few million years later, it settled
down into its current form. The life cycle of the Sun had begun.

The Main Sequence:


The Sun, like most stars in the Universe, is on the main sequence stage of its life, during which
nuclear fusion reactions in its core fuse hydrogen into helium. Every second, 600 million tons of
matter are converted into neutrinos, solar radiation, and roughly 4 x 1027 Watts of energy. For the
Sun, this process began 4.57 billion years ago, and it has been generating energy this way every
since.
However, this process cannot last forever since there is a finite amount of hydrogen in the core of
the Sun. So far, the Sun has converted an estimated 100 times the mass of the Earth into helium
and solar energy. As more hydrogen is converted into helium, the core continues to shrink,
allowing the outer layers of the Sun to move closer to the center and experience a stronger
gravitational force.
This places more pressure on the core, which is resisted by a resulting increase in the rate at
which fusion occurs. Basically, this means that as the Sun continues to expend hydrogen in its
core, the fusion process speeds up and the output of the Sun increases. At present, this is leading
to a 1% increase in luminosity every 100 million years, and a 30% increase over the course of
the last 4.5 billion years.
In 1.1 billion years from now, the Sun will be 10% brighter than it is today, and this increase in
luminosity will also mean an increase in heat energy, which Earths atmosphere will absorb. This
will trigger a moist greenhouse effect here on Earth that is similar to the runaway warming that
turned Venus into the hellish environment we see there today.
In 3.5 billion years from now, the Sun will be 40% brighter than it is right now. This increase
will cause the oceans to boil, the ice caps to permanently melt, and all water vapor in the
atmosphere to be lost to space. Under these conditions, life as we know it will be unable to
survive anywhere on the surface. In short, planet Earth will come to be another hot, dry Venus.

Core Hydrogen Exhaustion:


All things must end. That is true for us, that is true for the Earth, and that is true for the Sun. Its
not going to happen anytime soon, but one day in the distant future, the Sun will run out of
hydrogen fuel and slowly slouch towards death. This will begin in approximate 5.4 billion years,
at which point the Sun will exit the main sequence of its lifespan.
With its hydrogen exhausted in the core, the inert helium ash that has built up there will become
unstable and collapse under its own weight. This will cause the core to heat up and get denser,
causing the Sun to grow in size and enter the Red Giant phase of its evolution. It is calculated

that the expanding Sun will grow large enough to encompass the orbits of Mercury, Venus, and
maybe even Earth. Even if the Earth survives, the intense heat from the red sun will scorch our
planet and make it completely impossible for life to survive.

Final Phase and Death:


Once it reaches the Red-Giant-Branch (RGB) phase, the Sun will haves approximately 120
million years of active life left. But much will happen in this amount of time. First, the core (full
of degenerate helium), will ignite violently in a helium flash where approximately 6% of the
core and 40% of the Suns mass will be converted into carbon within a matter of minutes.
The Sun will then shrink to around 10 times its current size and 50 times its luminosity, with a
temperature a little lower than today. For the next 100 million years, it will continue to burn
helium in its core until it is exhausted. By this point, it will be in its Asymptotic-Giant-Branch
(AGB) phase, where it will expand again (much faster this time) and become more luminous.
Over the course of the next 20 million years, the Sun will then become unstable and begin losing
mass through a series of thermal pulses. These will occur every 100,000 years or so, becoming
larger each time and increasing the Suns luminosity to 5,000 times its current brightness and its
radius to over 1 AU.
At this point, the Suns expansion will either encompass the Earth, or leave it entirely
inhospitable to life. Planets in the Outer Solar System are likely to change dramatically, as more
energy is absorbed from the Sun, causing their water ices to sublimate perhaps forming dense
atmosphere and surface oceans. After 500,000 years or so, only half of the Suns current mass
will remain and its outer envelope will begin to form a planetary nebula.
The post-AGB evolution will be even faster, as the ejected mass becomes ionized to form a
planetary nebula and the exposed core reaches 30,000 K. The final, naked core temperature will
be over 100,000 K, after which the remnant will cool towards a white dwarf. The planetary
nebula will disperse in about 10,000 years, but the white dwarf will survive for trillions of years
before fading to black.

Ultimate Fate of our Sun:


When people think of stars dying, what typically comes to mind are massive supernovas and the
creation of black holes. However, this will not be the case with our Sun, due to the simple fact
that it is not nearly massive enough. While it might seem huge to us, but the Sun is a relatively
low mass star compared to some of the enormous high mass stars out there in the Universe.
As such, when our Sun runs out of hydrogen fuel, it will expand to become a red giant, puff off
its outer layers, and then settle down as a compact white dwarf star, then slowly cooling down

for trillions of years. If, however, the Sun had about 10 times its current mass, the final phase of
its lifespan would be significantly more (ahem) explosive.
When this super-massive Sun ran out of hydrogen fuel in its core, it would switch over to
converting atoms of helium, and then atoms of carbon (just like our own). This process would
continue, with the Sun consuming heavier and heavier fuel in concentric layers. Each layer
would take less time than the last, all the way up to nickel which could take just a day to burn
through.
Then, iron would starts to build up in the core of the star. Since iron doesnt give off any energy
when it undergoes nuclear fusion, the star would have no more outward pressure in its core to
prevent it from collapsing inward. When about 1.38 times the mass of the Sun is iron collected at
the core, it would catastrophically implode, releasing an enormous amount of energy.
Within eight minutes, the amount of time it takes for light to travel from the Sun to Earth, an
incomprehensible amount of energy would sweep past the Earth and destroy everything in the
Solar System. The energy released from this might be enough to briefly outshine the galaxy, and
a new nebula (like the Crab Nebula) would be visible from nearby star systems, expanding
outward for thousands of years.
All that would remain of the Sun would be a rapidly spinning neutron star, or maybe even a
stellar black hole. But of course, this is not to be our Suns fate. Given its mass, it will eventually
collapse into a white star until it burns itself out. And of course, this wont be happening for
another 6 billion years or so. By that point, humanity will either be long dead or have moved on.
In the meantime, we have plenty of days of sunshine to look forward to!

Biography of a Star: Our Sun's Birth, Life, and Death


Depending on the size of the original lump of gas and dust, the process of stellar birth can
give rise to different sorts of stars. A small lump never develops high enough pressures and
temperatures to start nuclear fusion. It is doomed to remain a dark, dismal stellar wanna-be
-- a so-called brown dwarf. A larger lump becomes a large star, so hot and bright that it
burns itself out in a few tens of millions of years. A lump in the middle, not too small and
not too large, becomes a middling star such as the Sun. Which is good: If the Sun had been
much smaller, Earth would have been a dark, dead world; much larger, and Earth would
have been broiled.
In its early years, the Sun went through a tempestuous youth, whipping up strong winds
that cleared the solar system of whatever gas had not been incorporated into a planet. But
then the Sun settled down. From studying rocks, fossils, and Antarctic ice, scientists think
the Sun has been brightening over time, but only slightly.
And how much longer will it continue to shine? For an idea of the Sun's life expectancy,
astronomers look to clusters of stars, such as one named Messier 67, which is about the

same age as our Sun. By simulating the life cycles of these stars on a computer,
astronomers have ascertained how long stars live. They predict that the Sun will be able to
fuse hydrogen into helium in its core at about the same rate for another 5 billion years.
(What a relief!) If the Sun were a car, the gas tank would now be half full.
What will happen when the Sun does run out of gas? (Hydrogen gas, that is.) Fortunately,
the Sun will still have reserves of hydrogen in the layers that surround the core. The core
will heat up this shell of hydrogen. When the shell gets hot enough to fuse hydrogen to
helium, the release of energy will carry on there. It is as if the driver of the car poured an
extra few gallons into the fuel tank.
But this trick has a price. The source of energy will no longer be the dense, massive core,
but rather a shell closer to the surface -- and that will make a big (so to speak) difference in
the structure of the Sun. The Sun will puff up until its radius is 30 times greater. It will
become a red giant, similar to the star Arcturus, though much smaller than a supergiant
such as Betelgeuse (see photo on p. 3). A red giant is red because its exterior cooled from
9,000 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it expanded; for a star, red means cool. This red-giant
stage will last for about 2 billion years.
That Time Bomb in the Middle
The striking but now-outdated video Universe, produced by NASA in the 1970s, shows the
red-giant Sun engulfing the Earth. Though certainly dramatic,
this is now thought to be incorrect. Astronomers have had to
scale down their estimates of the size of red giants based on
data from the satellite Hipparcos and from the new optical
and infrared interferometers -- networks of telescopes which can take images of large,
nearby stars. Now we think the Sun will not engulf us when it becomes a red giant.
But that is small comfort. In its retirement from normal core fusion, our previously nurturing
star will care little for its planetary children. It will be pumping out a thousand times more
energy, making Earth a good approximation to hell. To add insult to injury, the solar wind -a stream of particles which now gives us fun things such as the aurora borealis -- will
become a cyclone that will make radio communication impossible and perhaps evaporate the
atmosphere altogether. Looking on the bright side, the red-giant Sun may be warm enough
to melt the water-rich but now-frozen moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Humanity, if it is still
around, might relocate there.
Meanwhile, what happens to all that helium being produced in the shell? It gently rains onto
the dead, but still toasty, core of the Sun, making the core more massive and more
compressed. This raises the temperature of the core until suddenly -- and I really do mean
suddenly, as in seconds -- the helium in the core fires up and begins to fuse itself into
carbon. Using the fuel-tank analogy, this is as if the exhaust itself starts to burn.
The end is drawing near. Now the Sun has to rearrange its internal structure all over again,
as its source of energy is once again the central core. The Sun will contract back to a bit
larger than its original radius and will give off 10 times as much energy as what we are used

to now. This phase only lasts another 500 million years, as there are a lot fewer helium
nuclei (it took four hydrogen nuclei to make one helium nucleus, and three heliums to make
one carbon) and the energy production is much less efficient.
As the Sun exhausts the helium in the core, it desperately staves off the inevitable by
resorting again to those reserves in its outer layers. Again the Sun expands. This time, it
grows so large that its outer edge is only weakly gravitationally bound to the core. The Sun
barely holds itself together anymore. This eleventh-hour attempt at life-support is pitifully
ineffective; the final red-giant stage can be maintained for only 100 million years.
At this point, things will really start falling apart. The Sun's outer layers, freed from the
gravitational clutches of the core, will waft away. Over the course of about 10,000 years,
these layers will spread out into space as an enormous sphere of gas lit up by the nownaked hot core. These layers constitute a "planetary nebula," so called because in a small
telescope the gas cloud looks a bit like the disc of a planet (see photo on p. 3). The hot core
is now a "white dwarf," a stellar cinder. As a white dwarf, the ex-Sun will glow white-hot for
a near-eternity.
Alas, there will be no dramatic explosions to entertain our distant descendants: The Sun
would have had to start with at least eight times more mass to die the spectacular death of
a supernova. The Sun, modest in life, is subdued in death. After the planetary nebula fades,
there is no nuclear fusion at all (no extra fuel, no fuel tank, not even the trunk is left), just a
lump of hot carbon and some happy memories. The Sun will be well and truly dead.
The sphere of gas drifts off and eventually is gathered up in a new cloud, and become part
of the next generation of star formation. Perhaps one day, the ashes of the Sun will throw
their lot in with another star to be born, live, die, and, perhaps, give sustenance to other
warm little planets.
BETH HUFNAGEL is a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
As an auditor, she used to ferret out the secrets of corporate finance -- talents now applied
to the evolution of Sun-like stars. Her email address is hufnagel@stsci.edu. George Musser
contributed to this article.