Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Why Does The Sun Shine?" - They Might Be Giants, 1993 (alternative indie rock)

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees.

The sun is hot
The sun is not
A place where we could live
But here on Earth there'd be no life
Without the light it gives.

We need its light
We need its heat
The sunlight that we see
The sunlight comes from our own sun's
Atomic energy.

The sun is hot

The sun is so hot that everything on it is a gas:
Aluminum, copper, iron, and many others.

The sun is large

If the sun were hollow a million Earth's would fit inside
And yet it is only a middle-sized star.

The sun is far away

About 93 million miles away
That's why it looks so small

But even when its out of sight
The sun shines night and day.

Scientists have found that the sun is a huge atom-smashing machine.
The heat and light of the sun are caused by nuclear reactions
between hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, and helium.

The Sun, ladies and gentlemen. 'Nuff said. Well, maybe not quite 'nuff. The tune is catchy, the cd is pretty good, and the facts are straight. As a matter of fact, while I was looking around for something intelligent to say about the sun that TMBG didn't already, I found the lyrics of this song included in some astronomy lecture notes from some pretty prestigious educational institutions. However, I find that in some aspects these lyrics fall short in discription. Allow me:
  • More specifically, 600 million tons of hydrogen are "built into" 596 tons of helium at a temperature of 5800 degrees Kelvin. That's 9,980.33 degrees Fahrenheit, and that's just on the surface where it's cold! The core temperature of the sun is modeled to be 15.5 million degrees Kelvin. That's 27,899,540.33 degrees Fahrenheit. Sunblock anyone?
  • Are you always reminding people at home to turn out the light when they leave the room? The sun's luminosity is 390 trillion trillion watts (that's 3.9 with 26 zeros after it) and a "watt" is the amount of light it puts out in 1 second. Since the sun burns night and day, that means that at today's rates, at 6.3 cents per kilowatt hour, your electric bill for ONE DAY (24 hours) would be $5.9 nonillion (yes, it's a word). That's a 5.9 with 30 zeros after it. Better start puttin' in for some overtime.
  • It takes 8 minutes for the light from the sun to reach the earth, but for you to outrun the shadow of the setting sun, you would have to travel at 1,038 mph. Fasten your seatbelt!
  • "Large" is an understatement. It would only take you about 2 weeks to drive all the way around the Earth at 60 mph. The sun is 2,733,185.6 miles in circumference (870,000 miles in diameter). At 60 mph, it would take you 5 years to drive all the way around...and that's providing you don't stop to eat, sleep, use the restroom, or ask for directions.
  • But remember it's only a middle-sized star. Stars the size of our sun are called "dwarf stars"...probably because the largest stars, called "giants" and "supergiants" that can be hudreds of times larger across than our sun. For example, Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation is 650 times larger in diameter than the sun.

I hope that clears up some of the ambiguity that the song leaves us with about certain things. Just please don't ask me to sing all of that.

"Why Does The Sun Shine?" - They Might Be Giants, 1993

~sun facts from stellar places such as Ohio State University's astronomy department and UC Berkeley's Center for Science Education and many other hot spots. The math is all mine, so if it's wrong, be a sport and give it a little help.

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