Is the sun really the source of all our energy? Do we get most of our energy from the Sun? How does the Earth’s orbit around the Sun affect our day-to-day lives? Let’s explore these questions and more. We’ll begin by looking at the source of our solar energy, then discuss how we can use these rays to generate electricity, and finally touch on some of the effects our understanding of the solar system has on our daily lives.
The Sun As An Energy Source
If we think about the sun as a source of energy, one of the first questions that might pop up in your head is how much energy does it actually produce? The Sun, in its own right, is one of the most powerful bodies in the known universe. It is over 200 million years old and generates enough energy to sustain life on Earth. The sun’s energy is powerful enough to vaporize solid matter and to cause significant temperature changes in its surroundings.
Fortunately for us, the sun doesn’t produce that much energy. According to calculations done by the solar community, our star puts out only about 14.7 billion MegaWatt-hours of energy every year. To give you some perspective, that’s only about 6% of the world’s total energy consumption in 2017. Of course, this is an estimate, and the real figure could be a little bit higher.
While the sun is relatively inefficient when it comes to energy production, it is extremely abundant. It is estimated that there are about 285 billion trillion trillion trillion particles in the sun. While not every particle contributes to energy production, enough of them do to make a difference.
These particles are responsible for generating the sun’s powerful rays. When these particles collide with other matter, they generate heat and light. The heat is dissipated by the sun’s atmosphere, causing the planet to keep its warm temperatures. The light from the sun is vital for life as we know it, enabling plants to grow and sustain animals including ourselves.
Where Does Most Of The Sun’s Energy Come From?
If we consider the source of the sun’s energy, it comes mostly from the fusion of helium atoms. Helium atoms are a main component of the sun. They are less abundant than hydrogen in the star, but its presence is necessary for stable fusion. If you recall from high school physics, helium atoms are much less likely to fuse than hydrogen atoms. In addition to fusing to generate energy, helium atoms also emit light at specific wavelengths that we can detect and measure.
Hydrogen atoms are produced during the first few minutes after the big bang. Since then, they have been accumulating in the sun, forming a thin shell around its center. This is the source of the sun’s luminosity. The fusion of these atoms within the sun is known as “hydrogen ignition.”
As the sun ages, its supply of hydrogen atoms begins to decline. This is when helium atoms begin to accumulate, causing the star to become increasingly opaque. While this might be bad for our vision, it is good for generating energy as the sun becomes less efficient at heat dissipation. At this stage, helium atoms begin to fuse with each other to create heavier elements such as lithium, beryllium, and boron. These elements are not as abundant in the sun as hydrogen or helium but are still necessary for maintaining stable fusion. The fusion of these heavier elements within the sun is known as “helium burning.”
What Is The Effect Of The Earth’s Orbit Around The Sun?
It’s not only the sun’s energy that’s important to us. The Earth’s orbit around the sun has a significant effect on our day-to-day lives. As you might have guessed, the closer you get to the sun, the hotter it gets. This is obviously bad for creatures such as ourselves that need to stay cool. The Earth’s distance from the sun determines how much heat it receives and, in turn, affects our climate and weather. The farther the Earth is from the sun, the cooler it gets.
The effect of the Earth’s orbit on global temperatures is known as the “temperature inversion.” In scientific circles, this is often referred to as the “global warming effect.” If you’re not familiar with the greenhouse effect, this is what it refers to. The greenhouse effect is caused by gases such as water vapor and carbon dioxide that become trapped in the atmosphere when exposed to heat.
Greenhouse gases trap heat that would otherwise escape into space. The result is that the Earth gets warmer than expected for its location in the solar system. We can calculate the greenhouse effect using basic physics. If we consider the energy that the sun gives off and the energy that is retained by the atmosphere, it is possible to determine how much heat is trapped by the atmosphere. This is known as the “radiation imbalance.”
The Earth’s atmosphere is not the only thing that traps heat. The Earth itself also has a significant effect. As you might imagine, the hotter the surface of the Earth gets, the more heat is radiated into space. The closer the Earth is to the sun, the more heat it loses, causing the temperature inversion effect.
The Effects Of Understanding Our Solar System
Our understanding of the solar system not only has practical applications but also profoundly influences how we perceive the world around us. One of the most significant applications is the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life. Our knowledge of the solar system enables us to point the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) toward other stars rather than toward Earth. This is because the farther a star is from the sun, the cooler it gets. The Sun is a massive point of heat and light in the center of the solar system, and it gets progressively cooler as you move away from it. This is why astronomers use the Sun as a point of reference when calculating a star’s location in space. The result is that the farther a star is from the Sun, the more likely it is to appear cool and blue to us.
The other practical application regards our energy needs. Our understanding of the solar system enables us to better predict how much energy the Earth receives from the sun, enabling us to more accurately determine the amount of solar power that we can generate. In some cases, this knowledge can even lead to the discovery of new sources of energy. This is most notably the case with solar power where technological advancements made over the past century have enabled us to harness the energy of the sun.