Think Earth is the most important spot in the solar system? Think again. The sun is the real star of the show—literally!
The sun is the real star of the show—literally! The closest star to Earth, it’s the source of all the heat and light that makes flowers bloom, songbirds croon, and sunbathers swoon. Life wouldn’t exist without it. It's also the center of our solar system and by far its largest object. More than a million Earths would fit inside the sun! Our star’s enormous gravity grips the planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, comets, keeping them from spinning into deep space. Put simply, we wouldn’t have a solar system without the sun.
Despite its importance in the grand scheme of things, the sun isn’t unique or particularly complex. It's average in size and middle-aged compared to the billions of other stars in our galaxy. And although the sun accounts for 99.8 percent of the total mass of the solar system, it's really just a big ball of gas. A process called nuclear fusion converts hydrogen to helium deep in the sun’s core, where temperatures hit a balmy 18 million degrees Fahrenheit (15.7 million degrees Celsius). Fusion creates energy that travels to the sun’s surface in a journey that lasts a million years. The core will run out of hydrogen gas eventually, which will put an end to our fun in the sun. But fear not: That day won’t come for at least another five billion years.
DID YOU KNOW?
• It takes eight minutes and 20 seconds for the light leaving the sun to reach Earth. (Note: Never look directly at the sun!) The light from our next closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, takes more than four years to reach Earth!
• The sun actually creates weather in space—a stream of charged particles called “solar wind.” Sometimes these particles erupt from sunspots (cooler regions of the sun’s surface) as “solar flares” that can knock out power on Earth.
• Our sun rules the solar system on its own, but many stars share their systems with a second or third star. Imagine having two or three birthdays!