How Does the Earth’s Sun Stack Up Against Other Stars?
Something that many of us are guilty of is failing to remember that our sun is, in fact, a star, and one of many in the universe. Because we depend on our sun’s heat and brightness in our time here on Earth, we tend to lose perspective, forgetting that it ultimately maintains a life cycle no different from other stars in the solar system.
Of course, there’s a reason why our sun is something that we depend on in our daily lives, while other stars don’t affect our day-to-day in any way. So, what makes the sun unique from other stars?
Perhaps the most common myth about the sun is that it’s the largest star in the Milky Way. Now, we can’t blame anyone for believing this – after all, if there were larger stars, they’d appear just as large and bright from Earth as the sun, right? Well, no. With the sun’s influence on Earth, it’s all about positioning. The reality is that the sun is an average-sized star, as there are stars that are over 100 times larger, along with stars that are 1/10 the size, putting our sun somewhere in the middle.
To be more exact, the Earth’s sun is 864,000 miles in diameter. That’s a little over 100 times the size of the Earth, so no wonder so many of us are left with the assumption that the sun is the largest star in the galaxy.
The surface of the sun is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit – quite hot indeed. The temperature of a star is determined by its color. Because the sun is yellow, we can easily see how old it is. At their hottest stage, a sun turns a blue-white hue, and before that, it’s pure white. A star that’s less hot is going to be orange, and before that, red. For comparison, the hottest-known star is Wolf-Rayet, which is 35 times hotter than our sun. Meanwhile, the coldest star that we know of is a relatively new discovery that is only 206 degrees – only about twice as hot as the hottest days of the summer, depending on where you live.
Even if the sun isn’t the hottest or the biggest star, it has to be the brightest, right? Well, not exactly. Actually, new evidence shows that the sun is not nearly as bright as we perceive it to be, and certainly not the brightest star out there – in fact, it’s relatively weak. Its brightness varies in 11-year cycles, but the variation isn’t even that high compared to other stars. The sun is about 1/14,000 as bright as the brightest star we’re aware of, Betelgeuse, which is a red giant. Now, this is just based on objective information. In terms of our view here on Earth, the sun is about 12 trillion times brighter than the faintest star that we can see when we look at the night sky. But that’s really only because of our proximity to the sun compared to other stars. Obviously, the further away a star is, the fainter it will appear to us.
Our sun is experiencing its middle-age, being about 4.5 billion years old, while a star’s average lifespan is about 8-10 billion years. It’s hard to compare the age of the sun to the age of other stars, because new stars are constantly being born. Still, the sun is quite young compared to other stars that we’ve had more of a chance to observe in space. After all, the universe is more than 13 billion years old, and many stars emerged early on, which means that they’re really nearing the end of their life cycle at this point.
Why do humans base their lives around the sun? Well, it really comes down to positioning. Because the sun just so happens to be at the center of our solar system, and because of where Earth is positioned, the sun has a uniquely strong influence over life on earth in terms of both heat and light cycles. The distance between the sun and earth gives us days, seasons and years that give us a sense of consistency and routine that dictates weather patterns, the dark/light cycle and more.
In fact, the sun is the closest star to Earth. This means that if our planet was positioned elsewhere in the galaxy, we would instead base our lives around whatever the nearest sun would be. Now, all of this certainly makes the sun seem far less special than we on Earth think it is. But, think of the sun as our personal star, and be glad that we’re as close to it as we are – otherwise we’d be pretty cold.
Relationship to Other Stars
Our sun is also a lonely sun. Some stars exist in multi-star systems, where stars are clustered together, but our sun is the only sun belonging to its system. If this weren’t the case, we’d see multiple suns when we looked out our window each day – and needless to say, the Earth would be much, much brighter as a result.