Type ‘the sun’ into Google and the first results which come up (or which came up for me while I was researching this post) referred to the daily tabloid newspaper bearing that name. The enormous star at the centre of our solar system, and our planet’s primary source of energy, strangely comes in second.

Opinion varies as to whether life in the UK would be improved if the Sun newspaper were to vanish from existence. But quite unarguably if the real sun were to vanish, all life on earth would vanish with it. The heat from the sun keeps human and other forms of life warm, and sunlight enables trees and plants to produce the oxygen we breathe, through a process of photosynthesis, as well as enabling us to see. Harnessing the tremendous power of the sun has become an environmental priority as we move deeper into the 21st century, with companies such as Good Energy now developing a number of solar farms to provide renewable electricity to UK homes, in line with their commitment to ‘helping the UK achieve a future that’s powered purely by renewables.’

Radiator wallPossibly you knew these things already, but a few facts about the sun with which you may not be familiar are as follows:

  • The sun is a ‘yellow dwarf’, though this is neither the first nor the last stage of its life cycle. It formed about four-and-a-half billion years ago and was initially a ‘protostar’. In about another four-and-a-half billion years, when the hydrogen at its core has been exhausted, the sun will expand to become many times bigger and brighter than it is currently and enter the ‘red giant’ stage, consuming the earth as it grows. Lastly, the outer layers of the star will be shed to leave behind a very dense, faintly luminous core known as a ‘white dwarf’, which cools gradually and – according to current calculations – for as long as the universe continues to exist.
  • There is a great deal of symbolism attached to the sun in many different mythologies all over the world. The sun is regarded as a source of life and is seen as a symbol of spiritual growth. At the same time it is a bringer of drought (in contrast to nourishing rain water) so it is also seen as a destroyer. In addition to being contrasted with the rain, it is frequently set in opposition – though also complementarity – to the moon. Respectively, the sun and moon are aligned with active and passive, and male and female dualities, although some cultures speak, on the contrary, of ‘Mother Sun’ and ‘Father Moon’. In materialist terms, the ‘Black Sun’ is simply the Sun in its nightly transit over the other side of the globe, but symbolically it may represent primeval oneness, or a presage of disaster, destruction and death.
  • While the Copernican revolution of the sixteenth century established that the earth moved around the sun rather than, as has previously been thought, the Sun moved around the earth, this shouldn’t lead us to assume that the sun is stationary. In fact, the Sun is very much on the move, travelling at a speed of about 250 kilometres per second. Just as the earth is constantly orbiting the sun, so the sun is constantly orbiting the galaxy, although in contrast to the single year it takes the earth to move around the sun, it takes the sun significantly longer to move around the galaxy – about 250 million years!

(Photos by Petr and Jonathan Rolande)