MadSci Network: Astronomy

Re: Is there a way to represent the star process using chemicals, etc.?

Date: Mon Dec 19 09:50:16 2005
Posted By: Steve Nelson, research physicist
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 1134743732.As

Mindy, you've made a pretty good analogy.  The basic process of a match
lighting does indeed share some similarity to the Sun burning.  Both
situations require enough heat to start burning.  Both situations combine
simple fuel atoms in a way that releases energy and leaves behind something
more complex.  Also, in both cases the fuel will eventually be exhausted
and the system will cool down.

There Sun, however, is vastly more complex than a match.  A comparison:

Match                       Sun
-----------                ----------------
Lit by heat from           Lit by heat generated from its own
striking (friction).       gravitational compression.

Burns phosphor and         There are hundreds of types of nuclear 
oxygen in a chemical       reactions which power the sun, though 
reaction.                  it's primarily driven by a set of  
                           reactions called the "p-p chain." 

Burns out in seconds,      Turns into a red giant star, then burns
cools down.                out and cools down into a white dwarf.
                           This takes billions of years.

There are some other complex things about the Sun that a match doesn't
have, like a giant magnetic field which causes solar flares and sunspots. 
The Sun also rotates roughly every 27 days (it rotates at different rates
in the center than at the poles).  You can keep up with the latest things
happening on the Sun at (things like solar
flares).  There's no system that you'll find on Earth which is a perfect
analogy to the Sun, which is a million times the size of the Earth.  But
your match analogy still has the basic steps which are similar.

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