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The Sun Is Hot

The Intersection
By Sheril Kirshenbaum
Jun 9, 2010 7:02 PMNov 19, 2019 8:25 PM


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Do you remember when They Might Be Giants famously covered a 1959 children's song called 'Why Does The Sun Shine?' It begins like this:

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas A gigantic nuclear furnace Where hydrogen is built into helium At a temperature of millions of degrees

I thought I'd start the morning with a bit more detail 50 years after the original... At temperatures over 13 million K, the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium produces much of the sun's power. Every second, ~ 4.4 Mt of matter is converted to energy by way of thermonuclear reactions in this star's core, and (following Einstein's mass-energy equation) that's a rate about 30 trillion times higher than our yearly use of all primary electricity and fuels on planet Earth. (And no, I haven't come up with a new tune yet...)

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