Each and every day as we go about our busy lives, we give little or no thought to the importance of the sun. Fortunately, planet Earth is in a “Goldilocks” concentric orbit around the Sun. Any further away, and the oceans would freeze. Any closer and we would burn. If we were in an elliptical orbit, we'd freeze for six months, and become crispy critters the other six months.
The sun is a nonassuming G5 yellow dwarf star estimated to be 4.5 billion years old and has another 4.5 billion years remaining before it runs out of fuel and becomes a red giant, expanding out to the orbit of Mars. It converts 655 million tons of hydrogen per second into 600 million tons of helium thru a process of nuclear fusion. The core is so dense and hot (27 million degrees Fahrenheit) that positively charged protons easily collide, resulting in heat and light energy called photons. The energy released from the collision of two protons is about equal to that of a cruising mosquito, but the total energy from the collisions of billions of protons per second produces 380 billion billion megawatts of power (compare that to the Hoover Dam's 2,080 megawatts). The meandering photon travels in something called a “random walk” from the sun's core to the surface, then escapes out into space in the form of heat and light. This will take 200 thousand to one million years for these photons to reach us on Earth.
Physicists at the Central Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, have duplicated this collision process in pursuit of the elusive Higgs boson. They are searching for dark matter and dark energy, but we are still a long way from duplicating enough nuclear fusion for harnessing its energy.
During my lectures on the discoveries at CERN and the newest understandings of the internal structure of the sun, I often compare the studies of particle physics in both fields. The studies of astronomy and physics are becoming more and more blurred. The youth of today must be exposed to these exciting fields. Their generation will be the physicists and astronomers of tomorrow that may unlock the mysteries of the universe.
— Bill Logan is an expert solar observer and a volunteer amateur astronomer with University of Oregon's Pine Mountain Observatory. He lives in Bend. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org