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Mysteries Of The Sun

Jacki Lyden in for Tom Ashbrook

This hot summer, we’ll look into the heart of the star that brings us all life. The science and mystery of the Sun.

This image provided by NASA shows a solar flare just as sunspot 1105 was turning away from Earth on Sept. 8, 2010 the active region erupted, producing a solar flare and a fantastic prominence. The eruption also hurled a bright coronal mass ejection into space.  (AP)

This image provided by NASA shows a solar flare just as sunspot 1105 was turning away from Earth on Sept. 8, 2010 the active region erupted, producing a solar flare and a fantastic prominence. The eruption also hurled a bright coronal mass ejection into space. (AP)

Oh, yon flaming orb. Every day, Helios’s chariot carries you across the sky.

Well, perhaps not: but the 27 million degree star that rules our every waking hour actually has a beating heart. Well, a pulse.

Anyway,  it also generates a kajillion fascinating facts — did you know you get more Vitamin D from ten minutes in the sun than 200 glasses of milk?

We explore stories of the star, its eclipses, storms, shelf-life and why somewhere over the rainbow, it’s way up high.

This hour On Point: Here Comes the Sun.

-Jacki Lyden


Bob Berman, author of The Sun’s Heartbeat: and Other Stories from the Life of the Star that Powers Our Planet. He’s also a columnist for Astronomy magazine and science editor of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Madhulika Guhathakurta, NASA astrophysicist, and an expert on heliophysics and space weather. She’s lead scientist for NASA’s “Living With a Star” initiative, which focuses on understanding the effects of solar variability on technology and human life.

This hour, we’ll hear:

“Here Comes The Sun” by the Beatles
“Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” by Bill Withers
“Higher Than The Sun” by Primal Scream

The Sun blows out another big flare

Excerpt from The Sun’s Heartbeat: and Other Stories from the Life of the Star that Powers Our Planet:


Then, since 2000, what had previously been a trickle of new Sun discoveries became a flood. And a flotilla of six amazing solar-dedicated spacecraft was almost routinely providing revelations.

How many of our friends know that there’s a “sun inside the sun”? Or that a bizarre, newly found zone beneath the solar surface, the tachocline, is solely responsible for its violence? Or that we just experienced  the oddest solar cycle in over 200  years – which has apparently stopped global warming in its tracks? Or the scary stuff, like an all-star government panel that urgently warned that a particular kind of solar storm could effectively destroy our power grid at any time, with repairs to the tune of one to two trillion dollars?

Is it really mostly the Sun’s changing brightness – and not human activity – that’s altering our temperature? Is my own Old Farmers Almanac correct in predicting, ostensibly using scientific reasoning, that a global cooling is in the cards?

How can we create a valid public policy regarding climate change if the culprit is not ourselves but the nearest star? Or are such arguments mere rationalizations and cop-outs, a fog created by a deliberate or ignorant misreading of today’s cutting-edge solar science? And what about the medical advice to cover our skin when we venture out – has this drained our blood of its vital cancer-fighting vitamin D? And what should we make of the Sun’s eternal hand-to-hand combat with our world’s magnetic field; its complete power over our solar system and satellites; the billions of particles it powers through our brains?

It’s time to find out.

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  • Charlie mc

         One star, ours, in a galaxy containing ~1oo,ooo,ooo,ooo other stars, in a cosmos containing an estimated 10,000,000,000 other galaxies which came into existence through a “point” of no dimensions approximately 13,700,000 years ago, before which there was no space, no time, only the “NOW” of the Creator.
          “What is man, that You think of him;
           mere man, that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)
    Yet we now and here have trouble seeing any stars at all as we peer into our polluted night skies. Wake up, mankind, to reality and get humble!

  • Charliew

    explain “green flash” at sunset over ocean

    • Nikolai21

      I’ll take this one on, since I used an instance of this in one of my stories:  1st, it’s rather rare:  it takes absolutely perfect atmospheric conditions to produce this;  2nd, it’s only for a split-second;  Last, it’s a time when all the other colors from the sun are being selectively filtered out by the atmosphere, and the reason it only happens at daybreak is that this is when the sun’s light has to travel through the most atmosphere (relatively speaking) to reach our eyes.

  • Winston Smith

    Concerning where the sun came from, where did all of the stuff that it is made from?  If that came from something else, where did that stuff come from?  And why was there empty space there in the first place?  What is the uncaused cause of all things?

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      If there has to be an uncaused cause, why not just say that the universe is it?

    • nj

      It was an old white guy in flowing robes.

    • Nikolai21

      You’re talking THE creation of all things?  Last I read, current theory had it as the result of quantum “boil-over” and the collapse of scalar fields…

  • Atty Fitzpatrick

    Plants don’t ‘like’ green light because they are green.  Plants appear to be green because it is the wavelength of light they reflect.  Because they reflect green light they do not absorb it and therefore can not convert it to energy through photosynthesis

  • Noel

    I am a sun worshiper. It’s far more responsive as a deity than others I can think of. It rises everyday, bringing both life and death to the Earth, and I share every molecule in my body with the solar nebula from which we all came.

  • Ed

    “And they shall not need the sun or moon, because the Lord will be their light.” Revelations.

    • CS

      wait what?

  • Roberts

    Aaagh – that old canard about the sun’s output matching our photopic sensitivity curve. Green is the *energy* peak, but the retina is a quantum detector. The sun, like any near-black body, emits more photons at longer wavelengths than at shorter. So there is no quantum energy peak, and there are far more red photons than green. The reasons for our photopic and scotopic sensitivity curves lie elsewhere.

    Great show, though.

    • Nikolai21

      So you’re saying that the reason for our perception has more to do with our biology than any particular solar phenomenon?

  • Ed

    Galileo’s argument wasn’t against the Church but against Aristotle’s physics, in which entities outside the atmosphere are perfect and unchanging.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Charlie mc and Winston Smith,

    Isn’t it too early in the morning for creationism?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    It was against the Church, since the official doctrine endorsed Aristotelian philosophy.  Aristotle himself didn’t persecute Galileo; the Church did.

  • Anonymous

    What does he mean, “2012 was entertaining”???

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      He’s a scientist, not a movie critic.

  • Yar

    If we have an event on the sun like in the 1950?
    You should say when we have an event like in the 1950s!

  • JG

    I only heard the intro to the show in passing, did the intro warn of a geomagnetic storm?  The NOAA Space Weather site is not predicting a storm today:

    http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SWN/index.html (there was a warning from yesterday 8/4)

  • Ed

    How wonderfully are we made. I’m not much on creationism either, if you mean the literal six-day variety.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Isn’t it true that our magnetic field is what makes Earth’s history different from that of Mars?  Mars, lacking the field, gets hit by the solar particles and may have lost its water that way.

  • miro

    Great program!

    Do mention those old sunspot-weather-crop theories of the business cycle………..maybe some of our woes have solar origins — the fault lies in our stars, not in ourselves.

  • JG

    Here is a warning that seems to be predicting a strong G3 geomagnetic storm, not sure which pages are more up to date ???


    :Product: Geophysical Alert Message wwv.txt
    :Issued: 2011 Aug 05 1505 UTC
    # Prepared by the US Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, Space Weather Prediction Center
    #          Geophysical Alert Message
    Solar-terrestrial indices for 04 August follow.
    Solar flux 116 and mid-latitude A-index 4.
    The mid-latitude K-index at 1500 UTC on 05 August was 1 (08 nT).

    Space weather for the past 24 hours has been minor.
    Solar radiation storms reaching the S1 level occurred.

    Space weather for the next 24 hours is predicted to be strong.
    Geomagnetic storms reaching the G3 level are likely.
    Solar radiation storms reaching the S2 level are likely.
    Radio blackouts reaching the R1 level are likely.


  • Ezra David F.
  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Does the vitamin D production rate vary by race?  My ancestors come more recently from the high latitudes where the sun’s rays are weaker, while those with more direct African ancestry come from a region with more intense rays.

  • Ezra David

    The band They Might Be Giants have a wonderful song (partly spoken word) incorporating many of the facts discussed today, plus some interesting examples of its heat and power.
    Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)
                  can be seen and heard at the link below.


  • Volvo300w

    Nat’l Geographic aired a program on the topic of urban survivalists and the mass coronal ejection predicted between yesterday (sic) and Dec. 2012.  There is an entire network of such urban preparers, kids learning to don gas masks, use weapons, hydroponic gardens from swimming pools, etc.  Comments?

  • nj

    Thanks for the great program!

  • nj

    Thanks for the great program!

  • Lrduffsb

    I came in late. Was the issue of solar flares and the destruction of the power grid addressed?

    There is the potential (according to some scientists) of a massive national or regional power outage that it seems we are completely unprepared for.


  • Nikolai21

    I have a question that may seem a bit dumb on the face of it, but here goes:  comment was made regarding the visible light spectrum, and the fact that the sun puts out more visible light in the green part of the spectrum than any other ~ understanding then, how the atmosphere filters out the blue, and why the sun appears orange/yellow to our eyes here on earth, why does the sun not appear green from space, where there are only trace amounts of cosmic dust to filter the light?

    • Evan

      I suspect that the sun’s spectrum is only marginally stronger in the green part of the spectrum. Like adding an ounce of green paint to a gallon of white, it makes an unnoticeable difference to the naked eye.

      –Evan Wallace

  • Wolf Lynn

    This was a fascinating program!  How often your programs make me wish I’d paid more attention in my science classes, instead of only in my humanities classes!
    Lynn W.

  • cathyac

    Interesting program.  Thank you.

    However, I miss Tom.  His ability to engage the audience seems unique.  The substitute hosts sometimes (but not always) are robotic by comparison.

  • Pingback: Review: The Sun’s Heartbeat by Bob Berman.

  • Dave Stacey

    How many people know that the sun was created to create human celestials and steed? The warmth of earth is just a bi-product of the Sun, which is a electro-magnetic giant within our solar systems.

    Read this quickly because this site is edited by censorship of messages.

    Dave Stacey, Solar Reshearcher

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