Saturday, 12 March 2011


The Sun is the Solar System's star, and by far its chief component. Its large mass (332,900 Earth masses)[12] produces temperatures and densities in its core great enough to sustain nuclear fusion,[13] which releases enormous amounts of energy, mostly radiated into space as electromagnetic radiation, peaking in the 400–700 nm band we call visible light.[14]

The Sun is classified as a type G2 yellow dwarf, but this name is misleading as, compared to the majority of stars in our galaxy, the Sun is rather large and bright.[15] Stars are classified by the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, a graph that plots the brightness of stars with their surface temperatures. Generally, hotter stars are brighter. Stars following this pattern are said to be on the main sequence, and the Sun lies right in the middle of it. However, stars brighter and hotter than the Sun are rare, while substantially dimmer and cooler stars, known as red dwarfs, are common, making up 85 percent of the stars in the galaxy.[15][16]

It is believed that the Sun's position on the main sequence puts it in the "prime of life" for a star, in that it has not yet exhausted its store of hydrogen for nuclear fusion. The Sun is growing brighter; early in its history it was 70 percent as bright as it is today.[17]

The Sun is a population I star; it was born in the later stages of the universe's evolution, and thus contains more elements heavier than hydrogen and helium ("metals" in astronomical parlance) than older population II stars.[18] Elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were formed in the cores of ancient and exploding stars, so the first generation of stars had to die before the universe could be enriched with these atoms. The oldest stars contain few metals, while stars born later have more. This high metallicity is thought to have been crucial to the Sun's developing a planetary system, because planets form from accretion of "metals".[19]
The heliospheric current sheet
Interplanetary medium
Main article: Interplanetary medium

Along with light, the Sun radiates a continuous stream of charged particles (a plasma) known as the solar wind. This stream of particles spreads outwards at roughly 1.5 million kilometres per hour,[20] creating a tenuous atmosphere (the heliosphere) that permeates the Solar System out to at least 100 AU (see heliopause).[21] This is known as the interplanetary medium. Geomagnetic storms on the Sun's surface, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, disturb the heliosphere, creating space weather.[22] The largest structure within the heliosphere is the heliospheric current sheet, a spiral form created by the actions of the Sun's rotating magnetic field on the interplanetary medium.[23][24]

Earth's magnetic field stops its atmosphere from being stripped away by the solar wind. Venus and Mars do not have magnetic fields, and as a result, the solar wind causes their atmospheres to gradually bleed away into space.[25] Coronal mass ejections and similar events blow magnetic field and huge quantities of material from the surface of the Sun. The interaction of this magnetic field and material with Earth's magnetic field funnels charged particles into the Earth's upper atmosphere, where its interactions create aurorae seen near the magnetic poles.

Cosmic rays originate outside the Solar System. The heliosphere partially shields the Solar System, and planetary magnetic fields (for those planets that have them) also provide some protection. The density of cosmic rays in the interstellar medium and the strength of the Sun's magnetic field change on very long timescales, so the level of cosmic radiation in the Solar System varies, though by how much is unknown.[26]

The interplanetary medium is home to at least two disc-like regions of cosmic dust. The first, the zodiacal dust cloud, lies in the inner Solar System and causes zodiacal light. It was likely formed by collisions within the asteroid belt brought on by interactions with the planets.[27] The second extends from about 10 AU to about 40 AU, and was probably created by similar collisions within the Kuiper belt

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