For centuries, mankind has pondered the question: Why does the sun appear to shine more brightly at certain times than others?
While watching the sun rise or set, you might catch a glimmer of light dancing on the surface of the oceans. You might even see the odd rainbow after a heavy rainstorm. But, you likely won’t comprehend the true magnificence of our celestial neighbor, at least not right away.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in between the Earth and the Sun. This happens when the moon is at its closest point to the Earth, causing a total or partial eclipse of the Sun. For quite some time, people had only seen the partial eclipses. But, in 1918 the total eclipse was witnessed by a large number of people, which started a trend towards more frequent total eclipses.
Although not as common as solar eclipses, geophysical events such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) allow for the production of high-quality solar power in a much more frequent basis. A solar flare is a sudden, powerful burst of radiation that comes from the Sun, while a CME is an enormous cloud of superheated gas that originates from the Sun’s atmosphere. The energy from a solar flare or CME is enough to light up the whole Earth for a few hours. And these are just some of the events that contribute to the constant cycle of solar birth and death that result in the production of energy on a day-to-day basis.
What Is the Role of the Sun in Our Planet’s Climate?
The sun influences our planet’s climate through a process called the “greenhouse effect.” The greenhouse effect was first described by Joseph Fourier in 1810 and refers to the ability of certain materials to trap heat. Simply put, the sun provides the surface of the Earth with heat that is then retained by various plant and animal lifeforms. Without this continuous source of heat, life as we know it would not be possible. There would be no water available for organisms to drink, and food production would be greatly diminished.
The atmosphere of the Earth is considered to be the main culprit behind the greenhouse effect, as it is much more efficient at retaining heat than surface temperatures would suggest. The Earth’s atmosphere acts as a sort of greenhouse gas, which is able to retain heat by interacting with incoming solar radiation. In other words, the atmosphere absorbs blue light (which represents heat) and reflects back red light (which is the opposite of heat). This is why the sky appears blue and the Earth appears hot when seen from a great distance—that’s the power of the greenhouse effect at work.
Does the Wind Serve an Important Role in Our Planet’s Climate?
It depends on the geographical location you are in. Wind serves as a major player in our planet’s climate in some places and is considered a negligible factor in others. When the wind is whipping up, it can help to provide a clean and refreshing air flow into our lungs. But in places where the wind rarely blows, especially arid regions, inhaling its dry, crisp air might lead to health problems. In these circumstances, it is more efficient to rely on solar energy and the absorption of water by plants. Interestingly, in polar regions, where you would expect the winds to be powerful, the ground is actually a lot warmer than you’d expect. This is because the cold air is so efficiently trapped by the snow and ice that settles on the ground. While it is still quite cold in the sky, the temperature on the ground is something else entirely.
Do Animals Play an Important Role in Our Planet’s Climate?
In the winter, you might notice that animals become very active. They search for food and shelter from the cold, which is why you will often find animals in their dens or caves during this time of year. As we already established, food production would be greatly diminished without the Sun. Without sufficient food, the animal kingdom would undergo a catastrophic shift, and over time, we would see the extinction of many species. In the summer, as you might expect, there is less animal movement, as they are seeking cool, dark places in which to hibernate. This is why you will often find animals sleeping during the hottest times of the year.
Is a Warming Earth a Bad Thing?
If you ask most people, they will answer “no”, as they associate climate change with rising sea levels and more frequent floods and droughts. While this might be true in the long term, we mustn’t forget about the positives that would result from a warming Earth. As temperatures increase, so too will the rate of chemical reactions, leading to the formation of more complex molecules. This will result in an increase of biodiversity, as different species will be able to inhabit the same region. Plant and animal life will flourish as the temperatures rise, resulting in an increase in nutrient cycling that will help to feed the growing population. Furthermore, a warmer Earth will mean that the air we breathe is likely to be more oxygenated, as oxygen molecules need a higher temperature to become unstable and thus able to enter into chemical reactions. Finally, as temperatures increase, so too will the rate of energy consumption, resulting in an overall decrease of our planet’s energy consumption.
If you’re interested in joining the debate over whether or not a warming Earth is a bad thing, check out the links below.