Our star, the Sun, makes up 99% of all the mass in the Solar System. Its core is so dense and hot that normally repellent nuclei fuse together in nuclear reactions that produce vast amounts of energy.
The Sun is mostly hydrogen (its main fuel) and helium, and radiates charged particles called solar wind across the Solar System. Phenomena such as solar flares and sunspots are evidence of the Sun's strong magnetic field, which changes on a roughly 11-year cycle.
Read about eye safety during solar eclipses on the NASA website.
Photo: The Sun taken by the SOHO probe (ESA/NASA)
The Sun's core powers the Solar System.
Sir Patrick Moore gets a guided tour of the Sun probe.
Launched in 1990, the European Ulysses spacecraft became the first probe to fly over the poles of the Sun. The craft returned data about solar activity at high latitudes during a series of flybys. The mission ended in 2009.
Brian Cox experiences a perfect solar eclipse.
Professor Brian Cox travels to Varanasi, India, to watch a total solar eclipse.
Brian Cox travels to Norway to see the Northern Lights.
Professor Brian Cox travels to Norway in search of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Astrophysicist Professor Mike Lockwood accompanies him as they wait for the dazzling display brought by the solar wind.
What can a tin of water, a thermometer and an umbrella tell us?
Professor Brian Cox re-creates Sir John Herschel's 1838 experiment, which measured the amount of solar energy that falls on the Earth, with a tin, some water, a thermometer and an umbrella.
The Sun was born from a collapsing cloud of hydrogen.
Professor Brian Cox explains how stars are formed. By looking at the Milky Way we can see vast stellar nurseries in our galaxy.
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields. It has a diameter of about 1,392,684 km (865,374 mi), around 109 times that of Earth, and its mass (1.989×1030 kilograms, approximately 330,000 times the mass of Earth) accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System. Chemically, about three quarters of the Sun's mass consists of hydrogen, whereas the rest is mostly helium. The remaining 1.69% (equal to 5,600 times the mass of Earth) consists of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon and iron, among others.
The Sun formed about 4.567 billion[a] years ago from the gravitational collapse of a region within a large molecular cloud. Most of the matter gathered in the center, whereas the rest flattened into an orbiting disk that would become the Solar System. The central mass became increasingly hot and dense, eventually initiating thermonuclear fusion in its core. It is thought that almost all stars form by this process. The Sun is a G-type main-sequence star (G2V) based on spectral class and it is informally designated as a yellow dwarf because its visible radiation is most intense in the yellow-green portion of the spectrum, and although it is actually white in color, from the surface of the Earth it may appear yellow because of atmospheric scattering of blue light. In the spectral class label, G2 indicates its surface temperature, of approximately 5778 K (5505 °C, 9941 °F), and V indicates that the Sun, like most stars, is a main-sequence star, and thus generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. In its core, the Sun fuses about 620 million metric tons of hydrogen each second.
Once regarded by astronomers as a small and relatively insignificant star, the Sun is now thought to be brighter than about 85% of the stars in the Milky Way, most of which are red dwarfs. The absolute magnitude of the Sun is +4.83; however, as the star closest to Earth, the Sun is by far the brightest object in the sky with an apparent magnitude of −26.74. This is about 13 billion times brighter than the next brightest star, Sirius, with an apparent magnitude of −1.46. The Sun's hot corona continuously expands in space creating the solar wind, a stream of charged particles that extends to the heliopause at roughly 100 astronomical units. The bubble in the interstellar medium formed by the solar wind, the heliosphere, is the largest continuous structure in the Solar System.
The Sun is currently traveling through the Local Interstellar Cloud (near to the G-cloud) in the Local Bubble zone, within the inner rim of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way. Of the 50 nearest stellar systems within 17 light-years from Earth (the closest being a red dwarf named Proxima Centauri at approximately 4.2 light-years away), the Sun ranks fourth in mass. The Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way at a distance of approximately 24000–26000 light-years from the galactic center, completing one clockwise orbit, as viewed from the galactic north pole, in about 225–250 million years. Because the Milky Way is moving with respect to the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) in the direction of the constellation Hydra with a speed of 550 km/s, the Sun's resultant velocity with respect to the CMB is about 370 km/s in the direction of Crater or Leo.
The mean distance of Earth from the Sun is approximately 1 astronomical unit (about 150,000,000 km; 93,000,000 mi), though the distance varies as Earth moves from perihelion in January to aphelion in July. At this average distance, light travels from the Sun to Earth in about 8 minutes and 19 seconds. The energy of this sunlight supports almost all life[b] on Earth by photosynthesis, and drives Earth's climate and weather. The enormous effect of the Sun on the Earth has been recognized since prehistoric times, and the Sun has been regarded by some cultures as a deity. An accurate scientific understanding of the Sun developed slowly, and as recently as the 19th century prominent scientists had little knowledge of the Sun's physical composition and source of energy. This understanding is still developing; there are a number of present-day anomalies in the Sun's behavior that remain unexplained.