What keeps us alive? A star? A collection of stars? OR An eclectic mixture of celestial objects interacting together harmoniously? Our planet, the Earth and it’s neighborhood is essentially run by the Sun. It may sound poetic but that yellow glowing ball in the sky is essentially the basis of our solar system. Through a universal view, the Sun may just be an ordinary star, but a closer view indicates its importance, as it bathes the solar system with light and heat, making life possible on Earth. The ultraviolet light of the Sun has certain antiseptic properties and is also a strong source of Vitamin D. The Sun is as regular as clockwork, and it sets our daily life cycles in conjunction with Earth’s spin. Little wonder ancient peoples revered the Sun as a god. Yet the Sun will not always be steady and reliable.
Billions of years from now, the Sun’s finale will turn Earth — and the entire inner solar system — into a very nasty place. At 4.6 billion years old, the Sun is about halfway through its life. Its adulthood called the main sequence phase, lasts 10 billion years.
When the Sun runs out of hydrogen fuel, it must generate energy by fusing heavier elements. At that point, its main sequence phase is over. In one of the most peculiar transformations we know of, the Sun’s helium core, about the size of a giant planet, will contract and heat up.
The swollen Sun will consume the planets Mercury and Venus — and possibly Earth as well.
And, in response, the Sun will expand by 100 times. The swollen Sun will consume the planets Mercury and Venus — and possibly Earth as well. Astronomers watching from another solar system would classify this bloated version of our Sun as a red giant.
After the Sun’s death, much of its matter will dissipate as a planetary nebula, a slowly expanding bubble of gas. The Helix Nebula in Aquarius represents one of the sky’s most beautiful such objects.
The Sun will shrink somewhat, but, after a time, and for 100 million years, it will again expand.
With the Sun’s transformation into a red giant come new types of fusion reactions. An outer shell will fuse hydrogen as the by-products fall inward, further compressing and heating the core. When the core reaches 180 million degrees F (100 million degrees C), its helium will ignite and begin to fuse into carbon and oxygen.
The Sun will shrink somewhat, but, after a time, and for 100 million years, it will again expand. It will then brighten significantly as it plunges toward the end of its helium-burning phase, when vigorous outflows called stellar winds strip the Sun’s outer layers. This will lead to the Sun’s final life phase — a cyclical, gentle shedding of gas into what astronomers call a planetary nebula.
Our solar system will then harbor not one world with surface oceans
As the swollen Sun incinerates the solar system’s inner planets, its outer, icy worlds will melt and transform into oases of water for tens or hundreds of millions of years. “Our solar system will then harbor not one world with surface oceans,” says astronomer S. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, “but hundreds — all the icy moons of the gas giants, as well as the icy dwarf planets of the Kuiper Belt.”
Pluto’s temperature, says Stern, will resemble that of Miami Beach. A question Stern and other planetary scientists are asking: Will the outer worlds with new- found water evolve life in the relatively brief intervals they have to do so? The liquid water on these worlds might exist for only a few hundred million years.
After that, the Sun’s luminosity will dim to the point where these new water worlds will permanently refreeze.
After that, the Sun’s luminosity will dim to the point where these new water worlds will permanently refreeze. Hydrocarbons that could contribute to life’s emergence are already there, though. So, it’s possible that, in its death throes, our Sun may seed new life.
In recent times, there has also been an increase in the solar flare emissions due to the strong magnetic field in the Sun’s corona. The last potentially damaging solar flare was observed on July 23, 2012, which nearly missed Earth. According to NASA, the probability of such a Solar Superstorm every ten years is roughly 12%. The devastating effect of what a massive solar superstorm can do has been depicted in the movie Knowing.
the probability of such a Solar Superstorm every ten years is roughly 12%.
As for now, there is not much we can do about the sun anyway. What we can do, as inhabitants of planet Earth is, be responsible and sensible enough to protect our Earth’s ozone layer which blocks up to 97-99% of the Sun’s UV radiation. By cutting down on the pollution levels which are caused by harmful nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons. It is believed that the Ozone Layer could come back to the 1980’s level by the mid-21st Century.
Some 10 billion red giants blaze today in the Milky Way Galaxy. Among all of these aged stars, might some have spawned new life on worlds that remained frozen during the stars’ main sequence phases? It’s possible, say astronomers, but only time — and a whole lot more research — will tell.
We can say that ‘Everything that has a Beginning, Has an End’. But at the same time, the end of the world is just the beginning. Isn’t it?