Sunbursts and Solar Energy
During its first 50 million years, the sun contracted to approximately its present size.
Gravitational energy released by the collapsing gas heated the interior, and when the core
was hot enough, the contraction ceased and the nuclear burning of hydrogen into helium began
in the core. The sun has been in this stage of its life for about 4.5 billion years.
Print Number - SB025
Limited Edition signed color photography for sale by Stephen Brunson
The sun, by the gravitational effects of its mass, dominates the planetary system that includes
the earth. By the radiation of its electromagnetic energy, the sun furnishes all of the
energy supporting all life on earth, because all foods and all fuels are derived ultimately
from plants using the energy of sunlight, which is photosynthesis. Because of its proximity to
the earth, and because it is such a typical star, the sun is a unique resource for the study
of stellar phenomena. No other star can be studied in such detail. The star closest to the
sun is located approximately 4.3 lightyears away. To observe features on it's surface of
comparable size to those that can be seen routinely on the sun would require a telescope more
than 18 miles in diameter. Such a telescope, moreover, would have to be put into space, like
the Hubble telescope orbiting the earth currently, to avoid distortions caused by the earth's
The total amount of energy emitted by the sun in the form of radiation is remarkably constant,
varying by no more than a few tenths of 1 percent over several days. This energy output is
generated deep within the sun. Like most stars, the sun is made up primarily of hydrogen.
Specifically, 71% hydrogen, 27% helium, and 2% other elements. Near the center of the sun the
temperature is almost 29,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit and the density is 150 times that of water.
Under these conditions the nuclei of individual hydrogen atoms interact, undergoing nuclear
fusion. In this process two hydrogen nuclei combine to make one helium nucleus, and energy is
released in the form of gamma radiation. This energy is equivalent to that which would be
released from the explosion of 100 billion one-megaton hydrogen bombs per second. The nuclear
burning of hydrogen in the core of the sun extends out to about 25 percent of the sun's radius.