Stars play an important role in the universe. They’re the source of light, gravity, and warmth, soaking planets in the necessary elements to grant life. Without our sun, Earth wouldn’t exist – it would be another cold, lifeless rock floating through the universe. But thanks to the burning sphere, we have all the proper conditions to thrive.
How many stars in our solar system?
Don’t get confused! While we refer our star as the Sun, it’s still a star. It’s special, because it’s the only star in our solar system – anymore and our solar system would look a lot different (or wouldn’t exist at all). (If you’re looking for information about the galaxy, as opposed to the solar system, check out our guide on how many stars exist in our galaxy.) Its size creates an massive gravitation field, enough that it snares all the stellar objects we study when looking out our system. Everything from the planets, asteroids, dwarf planets, Kuiper Belt, and even Oort Cloud are caught in its gravitational grasp.
This is important, as this gravity lends to solar orbits. It’s how we track time, second by second, year by year. So, when you think of Friday, thank the sun! (Looking for the next largest body in the solar system? Check our guide to the largest planets in our solar system!)
What is the sun?
To answer what the sun is, we’re explaining what stars are. In a nutshell, they are a giant condensed body of gas, typically hydrogen and helium of incredible mass. The size of this gas condenses and holds together because of its own gravitational field. Within the heart of a sun and star, a nuclear reaction occurs, bathing everything around it in heavy, essential elements.
Stars are gigantic, and grow based on different factors like age. Our own sun is large enough you could put over 1000 Earths in it, but there are larger ones out there. Some of them become Red Giants, while others implode and turn into neutron-stars, then potentially black holes.
How did the sun form?
As long as humans and life have been around on Earth, so has the sun. So, in a way, it seems like it’s always been there, just because. And that goes for all of them in the night sky, too! So, it begs the question, where did our sun come from? In fact, where did all the stars come from? (Looking instead for a guide to solar eclipses? Click here.)
They are ancient in age, especially the ones you see in the night sky. You see, it takes time for light to travel from its source to our eyes. The things you see in the sky are actually from the past, because of how long it took their starlight to reach us. In fact, some you see may no longer be around anymore!
Explaining every process of their formation is tricky and would take a long time, but we’ll give you a quick breakdown to give you an idea.
For starters, cosmic dust and nebula clouds come together from different occurrences in the universe. As the cosmic matter draws closer, stellar clumps start to form, held together by their gravitational pulls. Slowly, this matter draws together and rotates together. The more the cosmic material starts to rotate, the more it shapes into a disc (and continues drawing other material into its clump). The condensing material begins to heat, eventually forming a protostar.
When it’s hot enough, it starts producing essential elements for solar formation like helium and hydrogen. Finally, this condensed heat and material creates an explosion, exposing the raw star within.
This process is far more complicated than we’ve gone over, but it’s the essential timeline. It can also take millions of years! So, the sun was here well before our solar system ever existed.
This occurrence works for every star that ever was or ever will be. The near uncountable amounts you see in the midnight sky all were born the same way, over the course of billions upon billions of years.
Is the sun dangerous?
Just as our star gives life giving rays to our world, it’s also quite dangerous. Earth is protected because of its magnetosphere and atmosphere, which keep at bay both UV (ultraviolet) rays and solar radiation. Ever had a sunburn? That’s overexposure to its powerful light. Everything from irritation of the skin to skin cancer are possible from too much time in the sun’s light. (Looking to bring some of these heavenly bodies to life for your youngster? Check out these solar system mobiles.)
But that’s here on Earth. Other planets lacking a sufficient atmosphere or protective magnetosphere are bombarded by the sun’s UV rays, leaving a dangerous, irradiated surface.
Because radiation breaks things down – even organisms – on the smallest level, life can’t sustain itself. This is nothing to say of the sun’s intense temperatures. Think of how hot some parts of our world are, then, imagine them multiplied as the only environment. Planets like Mercury, for example, have daily temperatures exceeding 400 degrees Celsius and nights below zero.
The sun, too, sometimes suffers from violent solar flares, which are like eruptions on its impossibly hot surface. Let’s just say it’s a good thing we’re so far away from it! (To get a safe look at our sun, you’ll need some of these solar filter sheets.)
How many stars in the universe?
We’ve got one sun looking out for our little blue planet, but how many are in the entire universe? That’s a big question, because the answer is vast, to put it lightly. (Check out this solar system bedding for some fun, astronomically-themed sleep.)
In the current observable universe, there are billions of known galaxies (estimated to be over 2 trillion). In our own galaxy – the Milky Way – there are estimated to be 100 billion of them. Imagine all the grains of sand on a beach and the stars in the universe exceed this amount. A rough number sits somewhere around 100 billion trillion, all with their own systems and worlds.
However, these are estimates in what’s currently observed in the known universe. The universe is still expanding, and there could yet be trillions more of them. Perhaps there’s never an end.
Our life-giving sun is special, allowing us to live our daily lives. It grew our food and warms our homes, providing us light. It’s the reason we have seasons, can track time, and grow as a species. So, the next time you see the night sky, know that our star is part of a family of uncounted trillions.