What is the Sun? - Facts, Layers & Temperature

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  • 0:00 How Hot Is the Sun?
  • 0:56 What Is the Sun?
  • 1:39 Layers & Temperature…
  • 4:07 Fun Facts About the Sun
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Ellen Ellis
The sun is a big ball of gas, and it is responsible for giving us the light and heat we need to survive. Learn about the complex layers of the sun, where that energy and light originates, and the powerfully hot temperatures within our favorite star.

How Hot Is the Sun?

Have you ever wondered how hot is 'really hot?' What is the hottest thing you can imagine? Is it a day you spent at the beach or a hike you took on a really hot day in the summer? Is it your house on the hottest day of the year when the air conditioner isn't working?

In each of these situations you probably experienced temperatures around 90°F to 100°F (32°C to 38°C). This is nothing compared to the hottest temperature ever recorded on the surface of the earth. It was 134°F (56.7°C) and was measured on July 10, 1913, in Death Valley, California.

Now consider our sun, the star at the center of our solar system that provides us with all of this earthly heat. The sun is hotter than you can imagine and its temperature varies depending on the layer. The surface of the sun is unbelievably hot, but you won't believe how hot it gets in the core, or the center, of the sun!

What Is the Sun?

You see and feel the effects of the sun every day as it heats and lights the earth, but do you ever think about what it is? The sun is a star, and it's not a very special star in the grand scheme of the universe. A star is a ball of glowing gas. Stars in the universe vary in terms of size and age. Our sun is a middle-aged star of average size.

It may not be special compared to other stars, but without it, life on Earth would not be possible. It radiates heat and light toward the earth and allows plants to grow and animals to thrive. Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field protect us from most of the damage that the radiation from the sun can cause, but still lets in enough energy to keep us going.

The Layers and Temperature of the Sun

While the sun is a big ball of gas, it does have some complexity in its structure. The sun is made up of several layers, starting with the core and working out to the corona, the outermost layer.

The core is the center of the sun and is responsible for producing the star's light and heat. The core is a fusion engine, fusing atoms of hydrogen to produce helium and a tremendous amount of energy. The temperature in the core is around 28,000,000°F (15,700,00°C).

The radiative zone extends about 70 percent of the way out from the core. Energy produced in the core radiates outward to the edge of the sun through this zone. Temperatures here range from 12,000,000°F to 4,000,000°F (7,000,000°C to 2,000,000°C).

From the radiative zone, energy travels into the convective zone. Just as water boils in a pot on the stove, in this zone energy is transferred by gases moving in convection cycles. The temperature here is a mere 4,000,000°F (2,000,000°C).

A thin layer after the outer edge of the convective zone is called the photosphere. This is the part of the sun we can see from the earth and which appears yellow to us. The temperature of the photosphere is around 10,300°F (5,700°C). With the proper telescope, you can see the boiling convective zone through the thin photosphere. The small dots are convective cycles called granules. Also visible on the photosphere are sunspots. There are dark spots caused by magnetic activity in the convective zone.

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