Zoom August 2010

It is difficult to fathom how enormous the sun is. The realization of how enormous planet Earth is relative to the average human doesn’t even come remotely close. 1 million Earths could fit comfortably inside its expanse and it contains about 99.8% of all the mass of the solar system. It all began, billions of years ago, with a vast cloud of mostly hydrogen gas, which began to coalesce, possibly due to the shockwave from a supernova explosion. The gas began spinning faster and faster. Eventually, there was so much material at such an extreme temperature concentrated in the center that nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium began to occur, and our sun was born. The planets formed from whatever material was left. Currently, the sun is a yellow dwarf star with a diameter of 865 thousand miles—small for a star. At its 25 million degree F core, an average of 515 million tons of hydrogen is fused per second and the massive amount of energy produced, almost 400 yottawatts (10 followed by 24 zeroes), is flung outward toward the surface through radiation, then convection. At the surface, the temperature is about 10,000 degrees F and the tops of the convection currents appear as granules. Beyond that, a mass of fast moving plasma particles form the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona. This becomes solar wind, permeating the entire solar system and creating the heliosphere, a zone billions of miles in length. All of this moving material contributes to the sun’s powerful magnetic field, which is the main reason for the massive, fiery ejections known as solar flares. Ultimately the sun is doomed, when it runs out of material with which to engage in nuclear fusion, it will swell into a red giant, eject the bulk of its mass and turn into a white dwarf. And so the cycle continues with the raw material of another star drifting in the blackness of space, waiting for the impetus to come together.

michael isenbek

Michael Isenbek, Associate Editor, dabbles in both fiction and nonfiction writing, coordinates the Pulse event listings and writes the text for "Zoom," among other editorial tasks. He has a Master's Degree in Liberal Studies and a Bachelor's Degree in Cultural Studies with a concentration in Journalism from SUNY Empire State College.