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The Sun, Our Star (The Harvard books on…

The Sun, Our Star (The Harvard books on astronomy) (1982)

by Robert W. Noyes

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The author describes the formation of the Sun with its "run-of-the-mill" qualities, and its "quiet" face, then introduces the theatrics of magnetic activity -- sunspots, prominences, flares, the hot corona, solar wind.

Why do the tails of comets always always point away from the Sun? (Coronal solar wind! [198]).

As humankind wrestles with the so-called "energy crisis" we may be comforted by the steady and predictable availability of the Sun's output. We have always tapped this energy, and it lies at the heart of fossil fuels (decayed remains of earlier generations), wind energy (from the heating of the atmosphere), and even hydro-electric sources (water raised to high elevations by evaporation). But for practical purposes, the fossil fuels are nonrenewable--they required millions of years to store and can only be replenished at similar time-scales. Once consumed, gone in a flash. The short-lived fossil fuel era will only last a few centuries. [232]

The day of reckoning for fossil fuel depletion can be staved off by using nuclear fission reactors. However, the fuel for these reactors is uranium-235, which can be mined from the earth's crust. Fission is the splitting of atoms when struck by a neutron. Uranium-235 is the only naturally occurring fissionable isotope of uranium. The process is accompanied by a host of issues, none of which have been resolved: disposal, storage and transport of waste, radioactivity spewing accidents (including earthquakes and tsunamis), misuse and sabotage. Like fossil fuels, uranium-235 is nonrenewable, with a much more limited supply. While "breeder" reactors and fusion devices may prolong the era, it remains a limited resource.

The author thoroughly establishes the fact that solar energy is the sole source of energy with truly attractive features. It can be "mined" safely, and "burned" without increasing "acid rain" or the "greenhouse" effect. The drawbacks -- an unevenly distributed dilute form of energy--are safely and easily addressed. To produce solar energy equal to present US consumption would require less than 0.5 percent of the US land mass devoted to that purpose. This is less than the total area of the US which is covered with paved highways. While substantial--18,000 square miles or 1/6 of the area of the State of Arizona--it is not depleting.

As for the Sun, it will continue to shine for the next 5 billion years. Flares will probably become less violent. In the future, the luminosity of the Sun will be increasing in the next billion years. By the time the Sun is 10 billion years old, its radius will also be increased, and at the apex of its career as a red giant, its diameter will be 100 times its present size, and the surface of the Earth will be about 1700 degrees Kelvin, a waterless sea of molten lava. [255] To maintain our present temperature ranges, humankind will have to be relocating outward approximately 1.8 A.U., roughly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. ( )
1 vote keylawk | Sep 17, 2011 |
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  gilsbooks | May 18, 2011 |
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About 5 billion years ago, a huge dark cloud of dust and vapor floated in the void between the stars of our Galaxy.
The widespread realization that the Sun is nothing more and nothing less than a star is only a few hundred years old. [3]
Is there anything special about that particular star we call the Sun?...It turns out that our Sun is very much a run-of-the-mill star. [3-7]
In this way [measuring the parallax displacement, using the Earth/Sun distance as one astronomical unit (A.U.) and the annual swing around the Sun as a baseline] the distance to the nearest [visible] star, Alpha Centrauri, is found to be about 275,000 A.U., or 275,000 times the distance to the Sun.
Our jet aircraft [that can fly coast to coast in 4 hours] that would require 21 years to reach the Sun would require 5.8 million years to reach Alpha Centauri. [6]
Our Sun is in the middle range of stellar surface temperatures as well as sizes. [10]
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