When you hear the word “weather,” you probably think of clouds and lightning bolts and rainstorms. Maybe, if you live in particularly high elevation or latitude, you think snowstorms or even blizzards.
We humans are used to these weather patterns. They’re the norm here on Earth. But would you be surprised to hear that the sun has weather of its own?
The sun doesn’t have clouds. Electricity doesn’t crackle through its atmosphere and build up as lightning. Its surface sits comfortably at about 5800 K, which is 9980°F and 5526°C—so it doesn’t even get close to cold enough for rain or snow.
Have you ever looked at the sun, and seen something like this?
Now, before you decide to look at it right now and see what you see, it’s my responsibility as an amateur astronomer to remind you of the safety risks. Focusing your eyes on the sun is dangerous—there’s a reason our eyes automatically flinch away.
How dangerous, you ask? Dangerous enough to burn and even scar your retinas, permanently damaging or even destroying your vision.
Yes, I’m serious.
Now, all this is not to turn you off solar observing entirely. There are safe—and cheap—ways to look at the sun, and see its spots.
Ask any climate scientist how we should power our world without fossil fuels, and they’re bound to tell you about wind and solar power.
You might be surprised to know that both of these come from the sun. Solar panels collect the sun’s energy directly, but we wouldn’t even have wind if not for the sun.
Why? Because in order to move, you need energy. And not just you. I’m talking about every speck of material on Planet Earth that shifts an inch. It’s because it has energy.
That energy can come from a lot of places. Earth is still a dynamic world with a hot interior, but it’s not hot enough to sustain all the life and other movement on its surface. A lot of our planet’s energy comes from the sun.
But here’s the big question. How the heck does it get here?
When we observe our sun’s corona, we discover something odd.
It’s really, really hot.
But…wait a second. How is that odd? Shouldn’t the sun be hot?
Well…yes. It should, and it is. Its surface temperature is almost ten thousand degrees Fahrenheit, and its core is many times hotter. But there’s a basic law of physics that says energy flows from hotter regions to cooler regions.
The core and photosphere (the visible surface) follow this rule. Even the chromosphere, the lower atmosphere, does as it’s told. But the corona is made up of gases that are hotter than the chromosphere.
Here, it looks like the chromosphere is the visible surface of the sun, with the photosphere just below. Really, we never see the chromosphere. If you ever look through a solar telescope at the sun, the photosphere is the surface that you see.
The sun is structured a lot like the Earth, just in that it has a core, a dense region between the core and the surface, a “surface” layer, and a few atmospheric layers. The chromosphere is part of that solar atmosphere. And you never see it.
You might, if you’ve ever seen the sun through a telescope before. What you’re seeing is the photosphere, the layer of the sun whose light reaches Earth. This is the only layer you’ll ever see, without the aid of a solar eclipse.
Wait a second…what do I mean, layers? I mean, I know what a layer is, but what kind of layers does the sun have?
This is adapted from a post I wrote for the wonderful Momma over at A Momma’s View. For the original version, click here.
The total solar eclipse is an incredible phenomenon, one that I hope to see myself someday.
It isn’t often that an astronomical event occurs of such magnitude that people of all walks of life from all around the globe are drawn to one measly 65-mile wide strip of land, to crowd in like sardines as they watch the world change around them.
What’s important to realize about a total solar eclipse, versus just an annular one, is that it’s a people event.
Scientists do take this opportunity to study the sun’s corona, an outer layer of gases that’s usually too faint to be seen. But in general, this is an event for crowds to enjoy.
And enjoy it they do. I have never known another event of astronomical significance to populate the web and turn heads like a total solar eclipse.
But what happens during a solar eclipse? What can you expect to see, and how can you protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays?