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Subject: Re: What does our sun look like to astronauts ouside the earth's atmosphere?

Date: Sun Nov 29 03:21:36 1998
Posted by Ricky J. Sethi
Position: PhD

Hello,

I think I can honestly say that this is something I had never considered before. But, I would imagine that the sun would not look significantly different from space than it does from the Earth. The atmosphere of the Earth does scatter the sunlight (hence the blue sky during the day and the red sun at sunset) so that would no longer be a concern. I guess that would mean the astronauts and cosmonauts experience a Sun that is bluer than the yellow sun us Earthers see (since that wavelength of light [i.e., blue light] is no longer scattered for them). Also, since there wouldn't be any other atmospheric distortions, the sun must seem incredibly brilliant to them.

Of course, I think I should point out here that it's most definitely NOT a good idea for anyone to look directly at the sun under any circumstances. The intensity of the sun's radiation can quite easily damage the human retina.

As for the size of the sun, the sun is 150 million (150 000 000) km away. Space shuttles orbit the Earth at an altitude of a few hundred kilometers, so they are, at most, a few hundred kilometers closer to the sun than those of us on the ground. A few hundred kilometers is such a small fraction of the 150 million km distance that our conception of the size of the sun would not change. Though, there may be some psychological or perspective effects from having the whole earth under you and being able to see the sun come up over the horizon (this might tend to make it seem larger since you'd be comparing it to the enormous Earth that's right under you). Finally, as far as we can tell, the Sun really is just a normal star. Of course, if you can pull some strings at NASA to get me into space, I'd be MORE than willing to email you a personal impression in return! Heck, I might even send you a video email then!

Best regards, Rick.

P.S., there is a NASA site called Ask-An-Astronaut which you might want to check out. It's a very cool site where you can submit questions to various astronauts and read a little more info about them, too. They've even featured such stars (pardon the bad pun) as Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, and John Glenn in the past.


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