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Concept Quiz Questions

In the late 1800s, Kelvin and Helmholtz suggested that the Sun stayed hot due to gravitational contraction. What was the major drawback to this idea?

It predicted that the Sun could shine for about 25 million years, but geologists had already found that Earth is much older than this.

When is/was gravitational contraction an important energy generation mechanism for the Sun?

It was important when the Sun was forming from a shrinking interstellar cloud of gas.

What do we mean when we say that the Sun is in gravitational equilibrium?

There is a balance within the Sun between the outward push of pressure and the inward pull of gravity.

Which of the following is the best answer to the question, "Why does the Sun shine?"

As the Sun was forming, gravitational contraction increased the Sun's temperature until the core become hot enough for nuclear fusion, which ever since has generated the heat that makes the Sun shine.

How does the Sun's mass compare to Earth's mass?

The Sun's mass is about 300,000 times the mass of the Earth.

Which of the following best describes why the Sun emits most of its energy in the form of visible light?

Like all objects, the Sun emits thermal radiation with a spectrum that depends on its temperature, and the Sun's surface temperature is just right for emitting mostly visible light.

The Sun's surface seethes and churns with a bubbling pattern. Why?

We are seeing hot gas rising and cool gas falling due to the convection that occurs beneath the surface.

Which of the following correctly compares the Sun's energy generation process to the energy generation process in human-built nuclear power plants?

The Sun generates energy by fusing small nuclei into larger ones, while our power plants generate energy by the fission (splitting) of large nuclei.

Every second, the Sun converts about 600 million tons of hydrogen into 596 million tons of helium. The remaining 4 million tons of mass is _________.

converted to an amount of energy equal to 4 million tons times the speed of light squared

Which of the following best explains why nuclear fusion requires bringing nuclei extremely close together?

Nuclei normally repel because they are all positively charged and can be made to stick only when brought close enough for the strong force to take hold.

If the Sun's core suddenly shrank a little bit, what would happen in the Sun?

The core would heat up, fusion rates would increase, the core would re-expand.

Why does the Sun emit neutrinos?

Fusion in the Sun's core creates neutrinos.

If the Sun suddenly stopped emitting neutrinos, what might we infer (after checking that our neutrino detectors were still operational)?

Fusion reactions in the Sun have ceased.

Why do sunspots appear dark in pictures of the Sun?

They actually are fairly bright, but appear dark against the even brighter background of the surrounding photosphere.

The star Alpha Centauri A is the same type of star as the Sun, but its luminosity is about 1.6 times that of the Sun. What can we conclude?

Alpha Centauri A fuses hydrogen into helium in its core at a higher rate than our Sun.

How can we best observe the Sun's chromosphere and corona?

The chromosphere is best observed with ultraviolet telescopes and the corona is best observed with X-ray telescopes.

The intricate patterns visible in an X-ray image of the Sun generally show _________.

extremely hot plasma flowing along magnetic field lines

How can we measure the strength of magnetic fields on the Sun?

By looking for the splitting of spectral lines in the Sun's spectrum

Satellites in low-Earth orbits are more likely to crash to Earth when the sunspot cycle is near solar maximum because _________.

Earth's upper atmosphere tends to expand during solar maximum, exerting drag on satellites in low orbits

Which of the following choices is not a way by which we can study the inside of the Sun?

We can send a space probe into the Sun's photosphere.

A computer accessory salesman attempts to convince you to purchase a "solar neutrino" shield for your new computer. (It's even "on sale" !) Why do you turn down this excellent offer?

Neutrinos rarely, if ever, interact with your computer.

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