Saturday, July 31, 2010

What’s Sun Made Of?

The sun is mostly hydrogen (about 73 percent of the total mass) and helium (25 percent). Other elements are found in much smaller amounts, adding up to just under two percent of the sun’s mass. These include carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, neon, magnesium, silicon, sulfur, and iron. Over 50 other elements are found in trace amounts. There is nothing unique about the presence of these particular elements; they are the same ones that are distributed throughout the solar system and the universe. In particular, hydrogen atoms of the sun’s core plow into one another to create helium atoms. In the process, a little mass is converted into energy. That little bit of energy for each collision means enormous amounts of energy when we count all of the collisions that occur in the core of the sun. The fact that c is a very large number means that a tiny amount of mass results in a very large amount of energy. With this energy source, the sun is expected to last not a thousand years, or even 100 million years, but about 8 to 10 billion years, typical for a star with the sun’s mass.

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