Just 1 second of the Sun's energy output would power the US for 9,000,000 years

Really. Or to use a more “explosive” illustration, multiply the world’s entire nuclear stockpile seven million times and detonate it. That’s also about one second’s solar output. Or put another way … well, you get the point; the Sun puts out a lot of energy.

We only avoid being incinerated by this 800,000 mile wide, 100,000,000 degree inferno because, like a light bulb, the Sun radiates in every direction. That, and the fact that we are 93,000,000 miles away, allows us to experience sunshine as a gentle blessing rather than an incinerating white-hot blast.


But where does so much energy come from? That question stumped scientists from the late 1800’s until the early 1900’s. By then science had come to realize that the earth was billions of years old, not just thousands as previously believed. But they couldn’t figure out what could have powered the Sun that energetically for so long.

The general answer came with the new science of nuclear physics and with Einstein’s postulation of his famous equation E=MC2. This description of the universe explains that energy and matter are one in the same and that conversion of a small amount of matter produces an enormous amount of energy. Finally, here was a possible explanation for the Sun’s unprecedented output!

But the details of the process weren’t figured out until just before World War II, largely through the work of American physicists George Gamow and Hans Bethe. In essence, they described a reaction in the Sun’s core where 600 million tons of hydrogen are fused each second. This process transforms more than ninety-nine percent of the hydrogen into helium. But here’s the key: about one percent of the mass is converted directly into the prodigious energy, a la Einstein's explanation, which has powered our planet for billions of years and which still warms us today.

PB

Comments

SolarSavvy said…
Now if we could only harness that clean, renewable energy to solve our energy problems. Consumers can start by participating in the non-profit American Solar Energy Society's National Solar Tour, the largest grassroots solar event in the world. Visit the homes of friends and neighbors who've gone solar...learn of the economic benefits, tax credits, environmental boon and overall prudence of going solar. Solar's time has come. And it pays! Last year, 140,000 in 49 states participated. Check it out! This year's event is October 3, 2009: www.nationalsolartour.org
supposedly Hans Bethe's work in figuring out the generation of energy in stars was building off of the work of Mark Oliphant who performed hydrogen to helium nuclear fusion in 1932 by colliding isotopes of hydrogen in a particle accelerator (and subsequently noticed the large increase in energy).

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