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The Sun bigodot
The Sun
Observation data
Mean distance from
Earth
149.6×106 km
(92.95×106 mi)
(8.31 minutes at the speed of light)
Visual brightness (V) −26.8m
Absolute magnitude 4.8m
Orbital characteristics
Mean distance from
Milky Way core
~2.5×1017 km
(26,000-28,000 light-years)
Galactic period 2.25-2.50×108 a
Velocity 217 km/ s relative to center of Galaxy, 20 km/s relative to average velocity of other stars in neighborhood
Physical characteristics
Mean diameter 1.392×106 km
(109 Earths)
Circumference 4.373×106 km
(109 Earths)
Oblateness 9×10−6
Surface area 6.09×1012 km²
(11,900 Earths)
Volume 1.41×1018 km³
(1,300,000 Earths)
Mass 1.9891×1030 kg
(332,950 Earths)
Density 1.408 g/cm³
Surface gravity 273.95 m s-2
(27.9 g)
Escape velocity
from the surface
617.54 km/s
Surface temperature 5780 K
Temperature of corona 5 MK
Core temperature ~13.6 MK
Luminosity (Lsol) 3.827×1026 W
3.9×1028 lm
or 100 lm/W efficacy
Mean Intensity (Isol) 2.009×107 W m-2 sr-1
Rotation characteristics
Obliquity 7.25 °
(to the ecliptic)
67.23°
(to the galactic plane)
Right ascension
of North pole 1
286.13°
(19 h 4 min 30 s)
Declination
of North pole
+63.87°
(63°52' North)
Rotation period
at equator
25.3800 days
(25 d 9 h 7 min 13 s) 1
Rotation velocity
at equator
7174 km/h
Photospheric composition (by mass)
(All in the plasma state)
Hydrogen 73.46 %
Helium 24.85 %
Oxygen 0.77 %
Carbon 0.29 %
Iron 0.16 %
Neon 0.12 %
Nitrogen 0.09 %
Silicon 0.07 %
Magnesium 0.05 %
Sulfur 0.04 %
The Sun is the star at the center of our solar system. The Earth as well as many other bodies (including other planets, asteroids, meteoroids, comets and dust) orbit the Sun. Its heat and light support almost all life on Earth.The Sun is a ball of plasma with a mass of about 2.0×1030 kg, which is somewhat higher than that of an average star. About 74% of its mass is hydrogen, with 25% helium and the rest made up of trace quantities of heavier elements. It is thought that the Sun is about 4.6 billion (109) years old and is about halfway through its main sequence evolution, during which nuclear fusion reactions in its core fuse hydrogen into helium. In about 5 billion years time, the Sun will evolve into a red giant and then a white dwarf, creating a planetary nebula in the process.Although it is the nearest star to Earth and has been intensively studied by scientists, many questions about the Sun remain unanswered, such as why its outer atmosphere has a temperature of over 106 K when its visible surface (the photosphere) has a temperature of just 6,000 K.

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Contents

General information
Structure
Solar activity
Theoretical problems
Magnetic field
History of solar observations
Sun and eye damage



General information - Contents

The sun as it appears through a camera lens from the surface of Earth.
The sun as it appears through a camera lens from the surface of Earth.
The Sun has a spectral class of G2V: the G2 means that it has a surface temperature of about 5,500 K, giving it a yellow colour, and its spectrum contains spectral lines of ionized and neutral metals as well as very weak hydrogen lines, and the V indicates that it, like most stars, is a main sequence star. This means it is generating its energy through nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium and is in a state of hydrostatic balance, neither contracting nor expanding.The Sun will spend a total of about 10 billion years as a main sequence star. Its current age, determined using computer models of stellar evolution and nucleocosmochronology, is thought to be about 4.57 billion years . The Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy at a distance of about 25,000 to 28,000 light-years from the galactic center, completing one revolution in about 225–250 million years. The orbital speed is 220 km/s, equivalent to one light-year every 1,400 years, and one AU every 8 days .The Sun is thought to be a second-generation star, whose formation may have been triggered by shockwaves from a nearby supernova. This is suggested by a high abundance of heavy elements such as iron, gold and uranium in the solar system: the most plausible ways that these elements could be produced are by endothermic nuclear reactions during a supernova, or by transmutation via neutron absorption inside a massive first-generation star.Our Sun does not have enough mass to explode as a supernova, and its mass is below the Chandrasekhar limit. Instead, in 4–5 billion years, it will enter its red giant phase, its outer layers expanding as the hydrogen fuel in the core is consumed and the core contracts and heats up. Helium fusion will begin when the core temperature reaches about 3×108 K. While it is likely that the expansion of the outer layers of the Sun will reach the current position of Earth's orbit, recent research suggests that mass lost from the Sun earlier in its red giant phase will cause the Earth's orbit to move further out, preventing it from being engulfed. Following the red giant phase, giant thermal pulsations will cause the Sun to throw off its outer layers forming a planetary nebula. The Sun will then evolve into a white dwarf, slowly cooling over eons. This stellar evolution scenario is typical of low to medium mass stars .Sunlight is the main source of energy near the surface of Earth. The solar constant is the amount of power that the Sun deposits per unit area that is directly exposed to sunlight. It is about 1,370 watts per square meter of area, one A.U. from the Sun, that is, near Earth. Sunlight on the surface of Earth is attenuated by the Earth's atmosphere so that less power arrives at the surface — closer to 1,000 watts per directly exposed square meter in clear conditions when the Sun is near the zenith. This energy can be harnessed through several natural and synthetic processes — photosynthesis by plants captures the energy of sunlight and converts it to chemical form (oxygen and reduced carbon compounds), while direct heating or electrical conversion by solar cells are used by solar power equipment to generate electricity or to do other useful work. The energy stored in petroleum was originally converted from sunlight by photosynthesis in the distant past.Observed from Earth, the path of the Sun across the sky varies throughout the year. The shape described by the Sun's position, considered at the same time each day for a complete year, is called the analemma and resembles a figure 8 aligned along the North/South direction. The most obvious variation in the Sun's apparent position through the year is a North/South swing over 47 degrees of angle, due to the 23.5-degree tilt of the Earth, but there is an East/West component as well. The North/South swing in apparent angle is the main source of seasons on Earth.The Sun is sometimes referred to by its Latin name Sol. Its astronomical symbol is a circle with a point at its center: bigodot. Some ancient peoples of the world considered it a planet.


Structure - Contents

The Sun's radius is about 110 times that of the Earth.
The Sun's radius is about 110 times that of the Earth.
The Sun is a near-perfect sphere, with an oblateness estimated at about 9 millionths , which means the polar diameter differs from the equatorial by only 10 km. This is because the Sun takes approximately 28 days to complete one full rotation, and the centrifugal effect of this slow rotation is 18 million times weaker than its surface gravity (at the equator). (The Sun does not rotate as a solid body: the rotational period is 25 days at the equator and about 35 days at the poles.) Tidal effects from the planets do not significantly affect the shape of the Sun, although the Sun itself orbits the center of mass of the solar system, which is located nearly a solar radius away from the center of the Sun mostly because of the large mass of Jupiter.The Sun does not have a definite boundary as rocky planets do, as the density of its gases drops off following an approximately exponential relationship with distance from the center of the Sun. Nevertheless, the Sun has a well-defined interior structure, described below. The Sun's radius is measured from center to the edges of the photosphere. This is simply the layer below which the gases are thick enough to be opaque but above which they are transparent; the photosphere is the surface most readily visible to the naked eye. Most of the Sun's mass lies within about 0.7 radii of the center.The solar interior is not directly observable, and the Sun itself is opaque to electromagnetic radiation. However, just as the study of the waves generated by earthquakes ( seismology) can be used to study the interior structure of the Earth, helioseismology, the study of sound waves that travel through the Sun's interior, has been used to measure and visualize the Sun's inner structure. Computer modeling of the Sun is also used as a theoretical tool to investigate its deep layers.

Core
At the center of the Sun, where its density reaches up to 150,000 kg/m3 (150 times the density of water on Earth), thermonuclear reactions ( nuclear fusion) convert hydrogen into helium, producing the energy that keeps the Sun in a state of equilibrium. About 8.9×1037 protons (hydrogen nuclei) are converted to helium nuclei every second, releasing energy at the matter-energy conversion rate of 4.26 million tonnes per second or 383 yottawatts (9.15×1016 tons of TNT per second). The fusion rate in the core is in a self-correcting equilibrium: a slightly higher rate of fusion would cause the core to heat up more and expand slightly against the weight of the outer layers, reducing the fusion rate and correcting the perturbation; and a slightly lower rate would cause the core to shrink slightly, increasing the fusion rate and again correcting it back to its present level.The core extends from the center of the Sun to about 0.2 solar radii, and is the only part of the Sun where an appreciable amount of heat is produced by fusion; the rest of the star is heated by energy that is transferred outward. All of the energy of the interior fusion must travel through the successive layers to the solar photosphere before it escapes into space.The high-energy photons (gamma and X rays) released in fusion reactions take a long time to reach the Sun's surface, slowed down by the indirect path taken, as well as constant absorption and reemission at lower energies in the solar mantle. Estimates of the "photon travel time" range from as much as 50 million years to as little as 17,000 years [7]. Upon reaching the surface after a final trip through the convective outer layer, the photons escape as visible light. Each gamma ray in the Sun's core is converted to several million visible light photons before escaping into space. Neutrinos are also released in the fusion reactions in the core, but unlike photons they very rarely interact with matter, and so almost all are able to escape the Sun immediately. For many years measurements of the number of neutrinos produced in the Sun were much lower than theories predicted, a problem recently resolved by the effect of neutrino oscillation.

Radiation zone
From about 0.2 to about 0.7 solar radii, the material is hot and dense enough that thermal radiation is sufficient to transfer the intense heat of the core outward. In this zone there is no thermal convection: while the material grows cooler with altitude, this temperature gradient is slower than the adiabatic lapse rate and hence cannot drive convection. Heat is transferred by radiation — ions of hydrogen and helium emit photons, which travel a brief distance before being reabsorbed by other ions.

Convection zone
Structure of the Sun
Structure of the Sun
From about 0.7 solar radii to 1.0 solar radii, the material in the Sun is not dense enough or hot enough to transfer the heat energy of the interior outward via radiation. As a result, thermal convection occurs as thermal columns carry hot material to the surface (photosphere) of the Sun. Once the material cools off at the surface, it plunges back downward to the base of the convection zone, to receive more heat from the top of the radiative zone. Convective overshoot is thought to occur at the base of the convection zone, carrying turbulent down flows into the outer layers of the radiative zone.The thermal columns in the convection zone form an imprint on the surface of the Sun, in the form of the solar granulation and supergranulation. The turbulent convection of this outer part of the solar interior gives rise to a "small-scale" dynamo that produces magnetic north and south poles all over the surface of the Sun.

Photosphere
The visible surface of the Sun, the photosphere, is the layer below which the Sun becomes opaque to visible light. Above the photosphere visible sunlight is free to propagate into space, and its energy escapes the Sun entirely. The change in opacity is due to the decreasing amount of H- ions, which absorb visible light easily. Conversely, the visible light we see is produced as electrons react with hydrogen atoms to produce H- ions. Sunlight has approximately a black-body spectrum that indicates its temperature is about 6,000 K, interspersed with atomic absorption lines from the tenuous layers above the photosphere. The photosphere has a particle density of about 1023/m3 (this is about 1% of the particle density of Earth's atmosphere at sea level).During early studies of the optical spectrum of the photosphere, some absorption lines were found that did not correspond to any chemical elements then known on Earth, and Norman Lockyer hypothesized that they were due to a new element which he dubbed "helium", after the Greek Sun god Helios. It was not until 25 years later than helium was isolated on Earth [8].

Atmosphere
The parts of the Sun above the photosphere are referred to collectively as the solar atmosphere. They can be viewed with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio through visible light to gamma rays, and comprise five principal zones: the temperature minimum, the chromosphere, the transition region, the corona, and the heliosphere. The heliosphere, which may be considered the tenuous outer atmosphere of the Sun, extends outward past the orbit of Pluto to the heliopause, where it forms a sharp shock front boundary with the interstellar medium. The chromosphere, transition region, and corona are much hotter than the surface of the Sun; the reason why is not yet known.The coolest layer of the Sun is a temperature minimum region about 500 km above the photosphere, with a temperature of about 4,000 K. This part of the Sun is cool enough to support simple molecules such as carbon monoxide and water, which can be detected by their absorption spectra. Above the temperature minimum layer is a thin layer about 2,000 km thick, dominated by a spectrum of emission and absorption lines. It is called the chromosphere from the Greek root chroma, meaning colour, because the chromosphere is visible as a colored flash at the beginning and end of total eclipses of the Sun. The temperature in the chromosphere increases gradually with altitude, ranging up to around 100,000 K near the top.Above the chromosphere is a transition region where the temperature rises rapidly from about 100,000 K to coronal temperatures closer to one million K due to a phase transition as the helium becomes fully ionized by the high temperatures. The transition region does not occur at a well-defined altitude. Rather, it forms a kind of nimbus around chromospheric features such as spicules and filaments, and is in constant, chaotic motion. The transition region is not easily visible from the surface of Earth, but is readily visible from space in the far ultraviolet portion of the spectrum.The corona is the extended outer atmosphere of the Sun, which is much larger in volume than the Sun itself. The corona merges smoothly with the solar wind that fills the solar system and heliosphere. The low corona, which is very near the surface of the Sun, has a particle density of 1014/m3 - 1016/m3. (Earth's atmosphere near sea level has a particle density of about 2x1025/m3.) The temperature of the corona is several megakelvins. At least some of the heat is known to be caused by magnetic reconnection but no complete theory exists yet.The heliosphere extends from about 20 solar radii (0.1 AU) to the outer fringes of the solar system. The boundary is defined as the layer where the flow of the solar wind becomes superalfvénic -- that is, where the flow becomes faster than the speed of Alfvén waves. Turbulence and dynamic forces outside this boundary cannot affect the shape of the solar corona within, because the information can only travel at the speed of Alfvén waves. The solar wind travels outward continuously through the heliosphere, forming the solar magnetic field into a spiral shape, until it impacts the heliopause more than 50 AU from the Sun. The Voyager probes are expected to reach the heliopause in the next few years and their instruments have recorded higher levels of energetic particles as they approach the boundary [9].


Solar activity - Contents



Sunspots and the solar cycle
Sunspot group 9393, one of the largest recorded in recent years
Sunspot group 9393, one of the largest recorded in recent years
When observing the Sun with appropriate filtration, the most immediately visible feature is usually its sunspots, patches of the surface at lower temperatures than their surroundings which appear dark in comparison. Sunspots are regions of intense magnetic activity, where energy transport is inhibited by strong magnetic fields. They are often the source of intense flares and coronal mass ejections. The largest sunspots can be tens of thousands of kilometres across.The number of sunspots visible on the Sun is not constant, but varies over a 10-12 year cycle, known as the Solar cycle. At a typical solar minimum, few sunspots are visible, and occasionally none at all may be seen. Those that do appear are at high solar latitudes. As the sunspot cycle progresses, the number of sunspots increases and they move closer to the equator of the Sun, a phenomenon described by Spörer's law. Sunspot usually exist as pairs with opposite magnetic polarity. The polarity of the leading sunspot alternates every solar cycle, so that it will be a north magnetic pole in one solar cycle and a south magnetic pole in the next.The solar cycle has a great influence on space weather, and seems also to have a strong influence on the Earth's climate. Solar minima tend to be correlated with colder temperatures, and longer than average solar cycles tend to be correlated with hotter temperatures. In the 1600s, the solar cycle appears to have stopped entirely for several decades, with very few sunspots being seen at all, a period known as the Maunder minimum; during this time Europe experienced very cold temperatures in the Little Ice Age . Earlier extended minima have been discovered through analysis of tree rings and also appear to coincide with lower than average global temperatures.

Effects on Earth
Solar activity has several effects on the Earth and its surroundings. Because the Earth has a magnetic field, charged particles from the solar wind cannot impact directly on the atmosphere but are instead deflected by the magnetic field and collect to form the Van Allen belts, an inner belt mainly composed of protons and an outer belt consisting mostly of electrons. Radiation within the Van Allen belts can occasionally damage satellites passing through them.The Van Allen belts form arcs around the Earth with their tips near the north and south poles. The most energetic particles can 'leak out' of the belts and strike the Earth's upper atmosphere, causing aurorae, known as aurorae borealis in the northern hemisphere and aurorae australis in the southern hemisphere. At times of normal solar activity, aurorae can be seen in oval-shaped regions centred on the magnetic poles and lying roughly at a geomagnetic latitude of 65°, but at times of high solar activity the auroral oval can expand greatly, moving towards the equator. Aurorae borealis have been seen from as far south as Mexico.


Theoretical problems - Contents



Solar neutrino problem
Extremely high resolution spectrum of the Sun showing thousands of elemental absorption lines (fraunhofer lines).
Extremely high resolution spectrum of the Sun showing thousands of elemental absorption lines ( fraunhofer lines).
For many years the number of solar electron neutrinos detected on Earth was only a third of the number expected, according to theories describing the nuclear reactions in the Sun, a result that was termed the solar neutrino problem. Theories proposed to resolve the problem either looked to reduce the temperature of the interior of the Sun to explain the lower neutrino flux, or posited that electron neutrinos could oscillate, that is, change into undetectable tauon and muon neutrinos as they traveled between the Sun and the Earth . Several neutrino observatories were constructed, including the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory and Kamiokande, to try to measure the solar neutrino flux as accurately as possible, and results from these led to the eventual discovery that neutrinos have a very small rest mass and can indeed oscillate .

Coronal heating problem
The optical surface of the Sun (the photosphere) is known to have a temperature of about 6,000 K. Above it lies the solar corona with a temperature of 1,000,000 K. The high temperature of the corona shows that it is heated by something other than the photosphere.It is thought that the energy necessary to heat the corona is provided by turbulent motion in the convection zone below the photosphere, and two main mechanisms have been proposed to explain coronal heating. The first is wave heating, in which sound, gravitational and magnetohydrodynamic waves are produced by turbulence in the convection zone. These waves travel upward and dissipate in the corona, depositing their energy in the ambient gas in the form of heat. The other is magnetic heating, in which magnetic energy is continuously built up by photospheric motion and released through magnetic reconnection in the form of large solar flares and myriad similar but smaller events .Currently, it is unclear whether waves are an efficient heating mechanism. All waves except Alfven waves have been found to dissipate or refract before reaching the corona . In addition, Alfven waves do not easily dissipate in the corona. Current research focus has therefore shifted towards flare heating mechanisms. One possible candidate to explain coronal heating is continuous flaring at small scales , but this is still an open topic of investigation.

Faint young sun problem
Theoretical models of the sun's development suggest that 3.8 to 2.5 billion years ago, during the Archean period, the Sun was only about 75% as bright as it is today. Such a weak star would not have been able to sustain liquid water on the Earth's surface, and thus life should not have been able to develop. However, the geological record shows that the Earth has remained at a fairly constant temperature throughout its history, and in fact the young Earth was somewhat warmer than it is today. The general consensus among scientists is that the young Earth's atmosphere contained much larger quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and/or ammonia than are present today .


Magnetic field - Contents

The heliospheric current sheet extends to the outer reaches of the Solar System, and results from the influence of the Sun's rotating magnetic field on the plasma in the interplanetary medium (Solar Wind) [1]. (click to enlarge)
The heliospheric current sheet extends to the outer reaches of the Solar System, and results from the influence of the Sun's rotating magnetic field on the plasma in the interplanetary medium ( Solar Wind) [1]. (click to enlarge)
All matter in the Sun is in the form of gas and plasma due to its high temperatures. This makes it possible for the Sun to rotate faster at its equator (about 25 days) than it does at higher latitudes (about 35 days near its poles). The differential rotation of the Sun's latitudes causes its magnetic field lines to become twisted together over time, causing magnetic field loops to erupt from the Sun's surface and trigger the formation of the Sun's dramatic sunspots and solar prominences (see magnetic reconnection). This twisting action gives rise to the solar dynamo and an 11-year solar cycle of magnetic activity as the Sun's magnetic field reverses itself about every 11 years.The influence of the Sun's rotating magnetic field on the plasma in the interplanetary medium creates the heliospheric current sheet, which separates regions with magnetic fields pointing in different directions. The plasma in the interplanetary medium is also responsible for the strength of the Sun's magnetic field at the orbit of the Earth. If space were a vacuum, then the Sun's 10-4 tesla magnetic dipole field would reduce with the cube of the distance to about 10-11 tesla. But satellite observations show that it is about 100 times greater at around 10-9 tesla. Magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) theory predicts that the motion of a conducting fluid (e.g., the interplanetary medium) in a magnetic field, induces electric currents which in turn generates magnetic fields, and in this respect it behaves like an MHD dynamo.


History of solar observations - Contents



Early human understanding of the Sun
The Trundholm sun chariot pulled by a horse is a sculpture believed to be illustrating an important part of Nordic Bronze Age mythology.
The Trundholm sun chariot pulled by a horse is a sculpture believed to be illustrating an important part of Nordic Bronze Age mythology.
Mankind's most fundamental understanding of the Sun is as the luminous disk in the heavens, whose presence above the horizon creates day and whose absence causes night. In many prehistoric and ancient cultures, the Sun was thought to be a deity or other supernatural phenomenon, and worship of the Sun was central to civilisations such as the Inca of South America and the Aztecs of what is now Mexico. With respect to the fixed stars, the Sun appears from Earth to revolve once a year along the ecliptic through the zodiac. Thus, the Sun was considered by Greek astronomers to be one of the seven planets (Greek planetes, "wanderer"), after which the seven days of the week are named in some languages.

Scientific understanding
One of the first people in the Western world to offer a scientific explanation for the sun was the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras, who reasoned that it was a giant flaming ball of metal even larger than the Peleponessus, and not the chariot of Helios. For teaching this heresy, he was imprisoned by the authorities and sentenced to death (though later released through the intervention of Pericles).Another scientist to fall foul of the authorities was Nicolaus Copernicus, who in the 16th century developed the theory that the Earth orbited the Sun, rather than the other way. In the early 17th century, Galileo pioneered telescopic observations of the Sun, making some of the first known observations of sunspots and positing that they were on the surface of the Sun rather than small objects passing between the Earth and the Sun [17]. Isaac Newton observed the Sun's light using a prism, and showed that it was made up of light of many colours [18], while in 1800 William Herschel discovered infrared radiation beyond the red part of the solar spectrum [19]. The 1800s saw spectroscopic studies of the Sun advance, and Joseph von Fraunhofer made the first observations of absorption lines in the spectrum, the strongest of which are still often referred to as Fraunhofer lines.In the early years of the modern scientific era, the source of the Sun's energy was a significant puzzle. Among the proposals were that the Sun extracted its energy from friction of its gas masses, or that its energy was derived from gravitational potential energy released as it continuously contracted. Either of these sources of energy could only power the Sun for a few million years at most, but geologists were showing that the Earth's age was several billion years. Nuclear fusion was first proposed as the source of solar energy only in the 1930s, when Hans Bethe calculated the details of the two main energy-producing nuclear reactions that power the Sun ,.

Solar space missions
The first satellites designed to observe the Sun were NASA's Pioneers 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, launched between 1959 and 1968. These probes orbited the Sun at a similar distance to the Earth's orbit, and made the first detailed measurements of the solar wind and the solar magnetic field, and Pioneer 9 transmitted data until 1987 [22]. The Helios 1 satellite, launched in 1974, was a joint US- German probe which studied the solar wind from an orbit which took it to within Mercury's orbit.1980 saw the launch of the Solar Maximum Mission, designed to observe gamma rays, X-rays and UV radiation from solar flares during a time of high solar activity. Just a few months after launch, though, an electronics failure caused the probe to go into standby mode, and it spent the next three years in this state. In 1984 Space Shuttle mission STS-41C retrieved the satellite and repaired its electronics before releasing it into orbit again, and it took thousands of images of the solar corona over the next five years before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere in June 1989 [23].Japans Yohkoh (Sunbeam) satellite was launched in 1991 and observed solar flares at X-ray wavelengths. It discovered several different types of flares, and found that the corona away from active regions was much more dynamic and active than had previously been supposed. Yohkoh observed an entire solar cycle but went into standby mode when an annular eclipse in 2001 caused it to lose its lock on the Sun. It reentered the atmosphere and burnt up in 2005 [24].One of the most important solar missions to date has been the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, jointly built by the European Space Agency and NASA and launched on December 2, 1995. Originally a two-year mission, SOHO is now over ten years old (as of late 2005). It has proved so useful that a follow-on mission, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, is planned for launch in 2008. Situated at the Lagrangian point between the Earth and Sun where the gravitational pull from both is equal, SOHO has provided a constant view of the Sun at many wavelengths ever since its launch. Besides solar observations, it has also discovered enormous numbers of comets, mostly very tiny sungrazing comets which have burnt up as they passed the Sun [25].All these satellites have observed the Sun from the plane of the ecliptic, and so have only observed its equatorial regions in detail. The Ulysses probe was launched in 1990 to study the Sun's polar regions. It first travelled to Jupiter, to 'slingshot' past the planet into an orbit which would take it far above the plane of the ecliptic. Serendipitously, it was well placed to observe the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1994. Once it was in its scheduled orbit, Ulysses began observing the solar wind and magnetic field strength at high solar latitudes, finding that the solar wind from high latitudes was moving at about 750 km/s (slower than expected), and that there were large magnetic waves emerging from high latitudes which scattered galactic cosmic rays [26].Elemental abundances in the photosphere are well known from spectroscopic studies, but the composition of the interior of the Sun is much less well known. A solar wind sample return mission, Genesis, was designed to allow astronomers to directly measure the composition of solar material. It returned to Earth in 2004 and is undergoing analysis, but it was damaged by crash landing when its parachute failed to deploy on reentry to Earth's atmosphere.


Sun and eye damage - Contents

Large solar flare recorded by the SOHO/EIT telescope using UV light from the He+ emission line at 30.4 nm.
Large solar flare recorded by the SOHO/EIT telescope using UV light from the He+ emission line at 30.4 nm.
Sunlight is very bright, and looking directly at the Sun with the naked eye is painful but generally safe . Looking directly at the Sun causes phosphene visual artifacts and temporary partial blindness. It also delivers about 4 milliwatts of sunlight to the retina, slightly heating it and potentially (though not normally) damaging it. UV exposure gradually yellows the lens of the eye over a period of years and can cause cataracts, but those depend on general exposure to solar UV, not on whether one looks directly at the Sun.Viewing the Sun through light-concentrating optics such as binoculars is hazardous without an attenuating (ND) filter to dim the sunlight. Using a proper filter is important as some improvised filters pass UV rays that can damage the eye at high brightness levels. Unfiltered binoculars can deliver over 500 times more sunlight to the retina than does the naked eye, killing retinal cells almost instantly. Even brief glances at the midday Sun through unfiltered binoculars can cause permanent blindness .Partial solar eclipses are hazardous to view because the eye's pupil is not adapted to the unusually high visual contrast: the pupil dilates according to the total amount of light in the field of view, not by the brightest object in the field. During partial eclipses most sunlight is blocked by the Moon passing in front of the Sun, but the uncovered parts of the photosphere have the same surface brightness as during a normal day. In the overall gloom, the pupil expands from ~2 mm to ~6 mm, and each retinal cell exposed to the solar image receives about ten times more light than it would looking at the non-eclipsed sun. This can damage or kill those cells, resulting in small permanent blind spots for the viewer . The hazard is insidious for inexperienced observers and for children, because there is no perception of pain: it is not immediately obvious that one's vision is being destroyed.During sunrise and sunset, sunlight is attenuated by a particularly long passage through Earth's atmosphere, and the direct Sun is sometimes faint enough to be viewed directly without discomfort or safely with binoculars. Hazy conditions, atmospheric dust, and high humidity contribute to this atmospheric attenuation.
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