I’ve been thinking about the Sun a lot over the last couple days.  Maybe it’s because it’s been raining all week, maybe it’s all the Egyptian documentaries on the history channel.

Aten, Sol, Sun all describe our local star.  There are perhaps a 100 million in our galaxy, but this one is ours.  It’s not remarkable compared to some other stars in our sky.  It’s average size, average power… just you’re basic fusion reactor.

Fusion describes the process of combining two or more elements.  Smash two Hydrogens together, and you get a Helium and a burst of energy.  Gravity is the press that forces those hydrogens together.  The sun is enormous from our human scale.  Put a tennis ball next to a hot air balloon and you can see how small we really are.  The Earth may seem big to us, and its gravity is enough to keep all of us from floating away.  Now imagine gravity thousands of times greater than what we’re used to.  If you could spread on SPF 2 million, you’d still be instantly squashed flat on the surface of the sun.  that gravity becomes even more intense as we get closer to the center of the sun.  At its core, the sun is pulling Hydrogen atoms together to the point where they can’t help but merge with their neighbors.  When that happens, a Helium atom is created.  2+2=4.1 in the sun, though.  Breaking the bond between a Hydrogen proton and electron to combine with its neighboring Hydrogen creates a great deal of energy and a Helium atom.

The sun stays in business by creating that energy.  As long as the sun can continue to “explode” with a continuous Fusion reaction, gravity can’t win.  Think of it as trying to blow up a balloon forever.  When you run out of breath, the balloon will collapse.  That’s what will eventually happen to our sun.  When the Hydrogen starts to run out, the outward pressure won’t balance the pull of gravity anymore.  The sun will start to collapse in on itself.  I have to do a bit of reading to firm up my understanding of what happens when a sun collapses, so I’ll leave that for the weekend.

Wikipedia entry

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