What is the Sun? Some people say it’s a giant ball of fire, but this isn’t true. It is a metaphor. The Sun is the nuclear furnace, but with science, it’s not important what you believe. Could the Sun be a ball of fire, something burning out in space? What fire is? Fire combines with oxygen in the air, a process that calls combustion. It produces heat and light. There’s no air and oxygen in the sun. The Sun fuses and takes some hydrogen atoms and turned them into helium atoms spitting out the extra energy. It is a big ball of gas and plasma.
Is the Sun a ball of fire?
In the 1890s, the discovery of atomic processes like radioactivity was discovered by Madame Curie and others in the early 20th century. They realized the Sun was a nuclear furnace. It isn’t burning with a chemical process like combustion at all. The Sun combines two atoms of hydrogen into an atom of helium and gets off light and energy. The core in the very center is very similar to a nuclear reactor. All of these particles get squashed together, and there’s a massive amount of pressure. And they undergo chemical reactions. So there are very different layers towards the edge of the sun.
What is the difference between a fire in space and a fire on earth? On earth, fire is under the Dominion of gravity. Think of a candle as the fire consumes the oxygen and heats the air. The hotter air rises, and the heavier, cooler unburned air sinks replenishing the fire fuel.
In space, this cycle doesn’t happen. There’s no such thing as lighter or heavier air in microgravity. Thus the fire heats the air, which just sits around the flame, causing it to burn slowly more of a smolder. It also means the flame burns equally in all directions forming a globe instead of the flickering flame.
Flames in space can burn more slowly, more coolly, and with less oxygen because of this fire in space, given the right conditions. It can expand in any direction as quickly as it can give us to the nearby oxygen. The heat doesn’t cause any rushing air or shockwaves or anything else like that on earth. The flame extinguishment experiment or flex experiments were designed to explore how fire behaves in microgravity.
Sun ignited its solar furnace about 4.5 billion years ago, and it has enough fuel to keep burning for another 4-5 billion years. The nuclear fire won’t go out, and the Sun is the source of all energy on earth. It is the sunshine that powers all photosynthesis that makes every plant on earth grow. Everything in the food web is powered by the Sun, created by the Sun.
- So, The sun can’t be a ball of fire because there’s no oxygen in space.
It generates light but also a tremendous amount of energy. It sends all of this material to us here on Earth, and so we live in the extended atmosphere of the sun. The heat shield has to remain pointed towards the sun at all times. So the front of the heat shield will get to about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. But the main body of the spacecraft is nice and cool at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The sun has a magnetic field, and that is continually moving away. The Parker Solar Probe found this magnetic field kind of reverses and makes an “S” shape. Astronomers call that a switchback. It’s hard to twist a magnetic field. It’s like trying to twist a rubber hose! So, somehow there’s this energy going into the magnetic field causing this “S” shape. And when it releases, it’s letting all of this excess energy out into the solar wind.