The Sun is the driving force behind our planet's existence and the largest object in our solar system. Its gravitational pull keeps everything from spinning into the cosmos and its solar energy powers life on Earth. Although we know a lot about the Sun, there are still misconceptions. Here are five myths that you might have heard about the Sun.
Myth: Earth is closest to the Sun in summer
It's easy to see why this myth about the Sun originated. The Sun is hot, summer is the warmest season, and the closer you get to a warm object, the hotter it feels. However, when the Northern Hemisphere experiences summer, it is actually at its farthest point away from the Sun.
This is because Earth’s orbit is elliptical — although only slightly. While Earth is slightly farther away from the sun in summer, this distance is negligible due its tilt. Summer occurs when a portion of the Earth is tilted towards the Sun. This increases the amount of sunlight the area gets and extends the length of the days, which leads to a temperature increase. This is also why areas closer to the equator experience fewer seasonal weather shifts since their tilt changes less.
Myth: It's the color yellow
You might not have heard this myth, but it's still easy to assume! On a clear day, the Sun is a distinct yellow object in the sky. However, if you observe the Sun at sunrise or sunset, you'll witness it undergo a variety of color changes from orange to sometimes even purple. This is because the Sun is not any of these colors. It emits a clear, white light that is altered by the atmosphere of Earth. The Sun emits light at different wavelengths that are scattered by the atmosphere. The ones that remain combine to become the yellow Sun that we recognize.
Myth: It doesn’t rotate
Outside of its daily journey from one horizon to the next, which we now know is caused by the rotation of the Earth, the Sun can appear to be a static object. Some have even inferred that it does not rotate but rather sits still at the center of the solar system. However, this isn't the case — the Sun does in fact rotate around an invisible axis. This was one of Galileo’s most important discoveries. Using a specialized telescope, the great astronomer was able to determine that the sunspots he observed were moving at a predictable rate that proved the rotation of the Sun.
Myth: Sunspots are cold spots on the Sun
This myth has an element of truth to it in that sunspots are colder than the areas around them. However, they are not cold. The average surface of the Sun is 5,500 degrees Celsius, whereas sunspots are only 3,500 degrees Celsius. While there is a significant difference here, sunspots can still melt most solid objects.
Myth: Solar wind and coronal mass ejections can knock satellites out of orbit
The Sun consistently emits energy into space and it is this energy that makes life possible. However, it occasionally ejects more powerful bursts of energy in the form of solar wind and coronal mass ejections. While these events do send electromagnetic forces into the solar system that can wreak havoc on electronics, the actual physical pressure does not reach Earth. Although an extreme coronal mass ejection might take a satellite out of commission, it will still be in orbit.
The Sun is an amazing object that influences everything around us. The next time you ponder the Sun — whether at sunrise, sunset, or behind thin clouds — keep these myths and realities in mind.