“Solar Radiation and its Effects on Planet Earth”
The Sun emits a tremendous amount of energy, in the form of electromagnetic radiation, into space. If we could somehow build a gigantic ball around the Sun that completely enclosed it, and lined that ball with perfectly efficient photovoltaic solar panels, we could capture all of that energy and convert it to electricity and be set in terms of Earth's energy needs for a very long time. Lacking such a fanciful sphere, most of the Sun's energy flows out of our solar system into interstellar space without ever colliding with anything. However, a very small fraction of that energy collides with planets, including our humble Earth, before it can escape into the interstellar void. The fraction of a fraction that Earth intercepts is sufficient to warm our planet and drive its climate system. The Sun is the star located at the center of our planetary system. It is composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. In the Sun's interior, a thermonuclear fusion reaction converts the hydrogen into helium releasing huge amounts of energy. The energy created by the fusion reaction is converted into thermal energy (heat) and raises the temperature of the Sun to levels that are about twenty times larger that of the Earth's surface. The solar heat energy travels through space in the form of electromagnetic waves enabling the transfer of heat through a process known as radiation (Stickler 1). The energy that drives the climate system comes from the Sun in the form of solar flares and radiation. The Sun frequently spews plumes of energy, essentially bursts of solar wind. These solar flares contain Gamma rays and X-rays, plus energized particles (protons and electrons). Energy equal to a billion megatons of TNT is released in a matter of minutes. Flare activity picks up as sunspots (cool areas appearing as dark spots on the sun) increase (Brit 1). When the Sun’s energy reaches the Earth it is partially absorbed in different...
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