Social Question

Blackberry's avatar

Can someone explain like I'm 5 years old how the sun works (details)?

Asked by Blackberry (31712points) April 19th, 2012

I’ve googled this of course, but it’s not sinking in all the way.

What I’ve got is: due to the gravity of the star, it creates an inward pressure? Then there’s the hydrogen and (I forgot the name of the other one) that join together and create deuterium, and that joins with another and creates another element, so on and so forth.

I probably messed that up, but I’m wondering specifically how the “nuclear reactor” works. How is it “creating” that energy?

Give me what I want, I only want nice people to answer.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

14 Answers

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

Think of Hydrogen as being number 1. But it has a little extra power, like 1.1, we rounded down.

Press two Hydrogen together hard enough, with gravity, they fuse together. So now it is helium, number 2.

But now you have that left over amount, .2. It becomes just raw energy, Heat and light. So that whole energy equals mass times the speed of light squared thing? That .2 when you go from mass to energy is unbelievable powerful.

marinelife's avatar

“The sun is a gigantic ball of gas that has gravity so strong it squishes hydrogen atoms into helium atoms. This is called nuclear fusion and releases energy just like nuclear fission, which is splitting atoms apart.” Ask Kids

ro_in_motion's avatar

The sun is an enormous ball of hydrogen – the most common element in the Universe. It’s also the simplest. All of this hydrogen together creates a lot of gravity. The deeper you go in the sun, the greater the pressure. At the center of the sun, the pressure is so great that there’s really no way for hydrogen to stay hydrogen anymore. The hydrogen atoms get pressed so close to each other that they combine and become helium. The helium is so happy at being created, it let’s out a burst of energy of joy.

It takes a long time for that energy to work it’s way though that great big ball of hydrogen. It bounces all around. About 10,000 years, it finally gets to the surface of the sun. Some of that energy is the light that we see.

FutureMemory's avatar

It’s big and it’s on fire, duh.

Blackberry's avatar


Thanks for the answers, guys. I’m getting the hang of this. This must be an enormous amount of pressure and gravity we’re talking about here. It’s difficult to fathom.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Like you’re five years old? Sure.

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees. The sun is hot. The sun is not a place where we could live. But here on Earth there’d be no life without the light it gives.

If you want it explained as if you’re ten years old, however, we have to go a bit more complicated and note that in fact the sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma. The sun’s not simply made out of gas. No, no, no—the sun is a quagmire; it’s not made of fire. Forget what you’ve been told in the past.

Blueroses's avatar

I so wanted to give that link @SavoirFaire. And then I remembered that the catchy song had been reexamined and found to be not quite accurate.. but I still can’t help singing ♪—the sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace—..♪

ucme's avatar

The big orangey/yellowey hot thing in the sky that some people use to get a tan.
Mummy just uses that fake spray on shit…..stuff, coz she ain’t got time to lie on no beach honey.

cazzie's avatar

Calling the sun a big burning ball of gas is one of my bugbears of teaching. It is not gas. You will find that all the large planets in our solar system are gas. The mass and pressure become so much that nothing can remain a solid. In fact, there are supergas planets that have no solar system at all and they simply float along in space. No one is quite sure how they formed, but there they are. BUT, they are not stars. Read on to find out why.

Have you seen the BBC show ‘Wonders of the Universe’?
Here’s a bit about stars:

The real issue isn’t that ‘hydrogen is a flammable gas’ because that is very ‘Telluscentric’ view. The hydrogen of the sun is more than burning and it is NOT gas.(sorry to correct everyone but it is a very fundamental point to understand.) It is in a PLASMA state.

It has to do with the amazing mass and gravity associated with having that much of anything in one spot in space. Stars are so big that they have surpassed being gas and have are in states of plasma. That goes for all stars, regardless of the elements present in them.

I hope that helps, and if I raised more questions than answered, just ask them and I will try to answer.

My 7 year old is really having fun with this little program. Is shows the scale of the Universe and might help you get your head around how big (and small) things are.

flutherother's avatar

A five year old is not ready for a scientific explanation. I would tell them it is hot, it is far away, it comes up every morning and goes down every night and even if it is cloudy it is still there above the clouds.

cazzie's avatar

@flutherother I don’t think you read the whole question. He is asking for himself, and from the details in his question, I would say he understands much more than a 5 year old and he is not giving himself enough credit.

There are many elements present in our sun, but the main ones are hydrogen and helium.

The sun’s energy output is produced by nuclear fusion of hydrogen and helium.
The process of fusion constantly creates heavier elements in the core of the Sun, although some are also rapidly destroyed. Hydrogen is the predominant element of the sun, accounting for about 74% of its mass. Helium accounts for about 24% of its mass.

Traces of oxygen, iron, silicon, sulphur, carbon, neon, nickel, magnesium, calcium and chromium make up the missing percentage.

Luiveton's avatar

@cazzie I think he/she was kidding.
@Blackberry Maybe this might be useful. (Just go back to page 1 then read onwards.)

flutherother's avatar

@cazzie I misread the question. I’ll try again.

The sun is made up of simple elements, mainly hydrogen, that combine to create more complex elements such as helium and carbon etc. Mass is lost during this process and converted into energy. This energy creates heat and an outward pressure which is balanced by the inward gravitational pressure of the sun’s mass.

It is surprisingly stable and will go on like this for billions of years as it has been burning for billions of years already, but one day its fuel of lighter elements will begin to run out and the balance will be lost and the sun will expand into a red giant.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther