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Unproductive Sun

June 18, 2012

Those of us here in the northern hemisphere are seeing a lot of the Sun right now. The summer solstice is coming up on Wednesday, so these are the longest days of the year. Across the Lower 48 states, we’ll see anywhere from 14 to 17 hours of sunshine, with those in the northern tier of states at the high end of the scale.

Our star’s brilliance isn’t misleading — the Sun is brighter than perhaps 95 percent of all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

And yet, for all its brilliance, the Sun is terribly inefficient and unproductive. Believe it or not, you produce more energy per pound than the Sun does — a lot more.

The Sun shines because it’s producing nuclear reactions that convert hydrogen into helium. But this activity takes place only in the Sun’s core. The rest of our star produces no energy at all. Instead, it presses hard on the Sun’s center and keeps it hot — about 28 million degrees Fahrenheit — which allows the nuclear reactions to take place.

You, of course, produce much less energy than the Sun does, and you produce that energy through chemical reactions, not nuclear fusion. But you also weigh much less than the Sun does, and the amount of energy you produce per pound is much higher. In fact, you generate more than a thousand times as much energy per pound as the Sun does.

So as you bask in the heat and light of the Sun, keep in mind that you’re giving as good as you’re getting.

We’ll have more about the Sun tomorrow.


Script by Ken Croswell, Copyright 2012


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