All About the Sun: Activities and Resources

When you learned the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” did you ever think it might be referring to the sun? The sun is our closest neighboring star, and by studying the sun, we can learn a lot about stars in general. We can also learn about the impact that the sun has on our planet. From heat and light to food, clothing, shelter, and even our measurement of time, nearly everything in our lives is affected by the sun.

In ancient times, Egyptian, Indo-European and Meso-American people worshipped the sun as a god. Solar eclipses of the sun were really scary because people didn’t know why eclipses happened. When the sun went dark because the moon passed in front of it, people thought that it might be the end of the world or some sort of punishment from the gods they believed in.

Anaxagoras, a philosopher and scientist who lived in what is now Turkey, suggested in 450 B.C. that the sun is a star. He was right, but for many years, people didn’t believe him. Even more controversial was the idea that Earth orbits the sun. Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish astronomer during the early 16th century, spent years trying to prove this theory. A hundred years later, Galileo Galilei, an Italian physicist and astronomer, was put under house arrest for supporting Copernicus’s idea.

We have come a long way since the days of Galileo. Today, we know much more about the sun and Earth’s relationship with it, in part because humans have developed more advanced tools.

The telescope was created in the early 1600s, although who invented it is disputed. The first telescopes were made with a concave lens in the eyepiece and a convex lens on the far end. They were intended to help people see distant objects and activities on Earth. Surveyors used them to measure land, and military officers used them to analyze threats and to watch battles from a distance. But Galileo immediately saw the possibilities. By 1609, he had improved the design so it could magnify images much better. Three years later, another famous astronomer, Johannes Kepler, changed the eyepiece lens from a concave shape to a convex shape. In 1668, Isaac Newton added a diagonal mirror to the design. This reflected more light to the eyepiece. Since those years, telescopes have undergone many more changes and improvements.

In addition to the original optical telescopes, astronomers also use radio telescopes, infrared telescopes, ultraviolet telescopes, X-ray telescopes, gamma-ray telescopes, and interferometric telescopes to study stars like the sun. With these tools, they have been able to measure radio and microwaves, infrared radiation, ultraviolet rays, X-rays, and gamma rays coming from the sun. With the help of interferometric telescopes, astronomers have been able to measure the diameter of the sun.

Astronomers are developing even more advanced tools for observing and measuring the sun. For instance, scientists hope to learn more about solar flares using something called a Frequency Agile Solar Radiotelescope, which is still being developed. The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, the world’s largest solar telescope, was built to help us learn about changes in the sun’s magnetic field. And the Solar Dynamics Observatory is a spacecraft that was launched in 2010 to collect data about the sun. It’s expected to remain in orbit around Earth until 2030.

Activities

Fun Facts

  • The Interior of the Sun: The sun is made of layers of plasma, which is a type of matter that’s even hotter than a gas.
  • Basic Sun Facts: Did you know that the sun is so big that you could put 1.3 million Earths inside it?
  • Fun Facts About the Sun: The sun might be a lot bigger than Earth, but it’s actually only an average-sized star.
  • The Sun: Hydrogen and helium are the two main ingredients in the sun.
  • About the Sun: The word “sun” comes from the Latin “Sol,” part of the name of a strong Roman god.
  • Sun Facts: The sun is a type of star called a yellow dwarf.
  • All About the Sun: It might look like the sun is moving across the sky, but actually, the sun stays in one place. It’s Earth that rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun.
  • Fact File: The Sun: Read this page to learn about things like sunspots, solar flares, and what will happen billions of years from now when the sun dies.

Games

Other Resources

  • One-on-One With the Sun: Read an interview with the sun to learn more about it.
  • Myths About the Sun: Since the days of the earliest humans, people have created myths about the sun, and many civilizations have believed in a sun god.
  • “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?” Watch this video to hear a fun song and learn about what the sun is made of and how it works.
  • The Sun and Sunspots: When there are unsettled conditions on the sun, we sometimes experience the effects on Earth as disruptions in radio broadcasts.
  • How Does Solar Power Work? By using technology to capture the sun’s energy, we can create electricity without creating pollution.