What is the sun? It’s a massive ball of gas and plasma 93 million miles away that’s been shining for four and a half billion years. It warms our planet and gives us light – and astronomers have been fascinated with it for hundreds of years.
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Rob…
… and I’m Neil. Hello.
Hello, Neil, and what a glorious sunny day it is today. Not a cloud in the sky! Spring is definitely here! Now, Neil, you’re a bit of a sun worshipper, aren’t you? You like sunbathing…
I do indeed! I love sitting in my deckchair in the garden, catching some rays…
Hmm, yes, you look a bit orange actually. Are you sure that tan’s not fake?
Very cheeky, Rob, very cheeky…
Now the reason I mentioned sunbathing is because we’re discussing the sun in this programme.
Yes, that’s right. The sun is our nearest star – although it’s a staggering 150 million kilometres away. Earth is one of nine planets that orbit – or circle around – the sun. And life on Earth couldn’t exist without its warmth and light.
And we should mention… the sun is absolutely massive. Its volume is so large you could fit a million Earths inside it.
That’s amazing! It’s also incredibly hot. Hotter than anything you could imagine.
So Neil, can you answer this question: How hot is the surface of the sun? Now I’ll help you out by telling you that the sun’s core – that’s the centre – is a blistering five million degrees Celsius. But how hot is the sun’s surface? Is it …
a) 1.5 billion degrees Celsius
b) 1.5 million degrees Celsius
or c) 5500 degrees Celsius
Hmm. I have no idea. They all sound quite warm to me. But … I think it must be a bit cooler than the core. So I’m going to go for 1.5 million degrees.
Okay. Well, we’ll find out if you’re right or wrong later on. But now let’s listen to Professor of Solar Physics Louise Harra to discover what the sun is made of.
Louise Harra, Professor of Solar Physics at UCL Mullard Space Science
It’s just a big ball of gas. And we measure it… it’s made mostly of hydrogen. So it’s roughly 90% hydrogen, it’s maybe 8% helium, and the rest of it’s made up of things like iron, carbon, oxygen, nickel.
So the main gas is hydrogen, which accounts for 90% of the sun’s matter. Now, ‘matter’ means what something is made of.
And hydrogen creates all the sun’s energy. Heat and light energy is created all the time in the sun’s core as a result of gas explosions or nuclear reactions. And this bit is hard to believe – it takes a hundred thousand years for this light energy to travel from the sun’s core to the sun’s surface.
But once it reaches the sun’s surface – the photosphere – it can escape. In fact, it takes only eight minutes for light energy from the sun to reach the Earth. Scientists these days are able to see the photosphere in fantastic detail using powerful telescopes.
Though Galileo observed dark spots on the sun through his telescope several hundred years ago, didn’t he? Which brings us on to another question: How old is the sun?
Well, I happen to know that it came into being around four and a half billion years ago.
Did you study solar physics at university, Neil?
No, just… you know, just general knowledge.
Well, the sun came into being – or was created – a very long time ago! We’re going to hear now from Professor of Physics, Yvonne Elseworth. What does she say about how long the sun is going to stay the same?
Yvonne Elseworth, Poynting Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham
In terms of its current lifestyle it’s here for as long again, so we’re about half way through. And then it becomes a different sort of star – it becomes a giant star and that’s probably curtains for us, actually. It’ll get a bit warm, a bit toasty, and we’ll get enveloped in the sun, and it won’t be nice…
So the sun is going to stay the same for another four and a half billion years. But the professor also says that the sun will change. When it becomes a giant star, it will be curtains for our planet – and ‘curtains’ means the end, I’m afraid!
Yes, it does. And as a giant star, the sun will get hotter – it will make the Earth toasty. Now, toasty usually means hot in a nice way.
That’s right – for example, my toes are warm and toasty in my new slippers. But in reality the giant sun will make the Earth unbearably hot. It will surround – or envelop – our planet and burn it up.
Well, I’m glad we’re not going to be around when that happens. Now, remember at the beginning of the show I asked you how hot the sun’s surface is? Is it a) 1.5 billion b) 1.5 million or c) 5500 degrees Celsius?
And I said 1.5 million…
It’s way too hot, I’m afraid you were wrong. The answer is actually 5500 degrees Celsius. But still, if you’re planning on visiting the sun, remember to take your sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen! Now, before we go, it’s time to remind ourselves of some of the vocabulary that we’ve heard today. Neil.
come into being
curtains for something
Thanks. Well, that brings us to the end of today’s 6 Minute English. We hope you enjoyed today’s programme. Please join us again soon. Bye bye.
Vocabulary and definitions
orbit – circle around a bigger object, for example another planet or star
massive – very large and heavy
core – the central part of an object
energy – the ability of a physical object or process to work
matter – what something is made of: solid, liquid or gas
photosphere – the surface of a star
come into being – be created
curtains for something – the end
toasty – comfortably warm
envelop – cover completely
6 Minute English – The sun Transcript Video
- 6 Minute English – Giving away your fortune
- 6 Minute English ’14 – When does adulthood start?
- 6 Minute English ’11 – Witches
- 6 Minute English – How would you like to pay?
- 6 Minute English ’14 – Glass half full
- 6 Minute English – How do you like your tea?
- 6 Minute Business English ’13 – Arranging meetings
- 6 Minute English – The commute
- 6 Minute Business English ’14 – Misunderstandings
- 6 Minute English – Are we afraid of food?
- 6 Minute Business English ’13 – Customer complaints
- 6 Minute English – Is modern life making us tired?
- 6 Minute English ’11 – Stress in the workplace
- 6 Minute English – Asking the right questions
- 6 Minute English – The way we look
- 6 Minute English ’10 – New Year’s resolutions
- 6 Minute English – Christmas kindness
- 6 Minute English – Why do we take risks?
- 6 Minute English – Is student life all good?
- 6 Minute English – Robin Hood
More BBC 6 Minute Business English
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Misunderstandings
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Socialising
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Punctuality
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Using technology at work
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Describing sales
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Asking personal questions
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Pay rise
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Rules
- 6 Minute English – Business English: New colleagues
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Asking permission & polite requests
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Arranging meetings
- 6 Minute English – Business English: Customer complaints
- L1: BBC The English We Speak with transcript videos
- L1: BBC Face Up to Phrasals with transcript videos
- L3: BBC Words in the News with transcript videos
- L1: BBC Short and Easy Dramas with transcript videos
- L1: BBC English Idioms
- L3: BBC Better Speaking
- L1: BBC English at Work with transcript videos
- L1: BBC 6 Minute Vocabulary with transcript videos
- L3: BBC The Reading Group
- L1: BBC Drama – The Race with transcript videos
- L2: A.A. Milne – Winnie the Pooh AudioBook
- L2: The Secret Garden AudioBook
- L2: Study English – IELTS Preparation
- L2: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Easy AudioBook
- L3: Pride and Prejudice AudioBook
- L3: The Business of English Video Series
- L1: Living English Video Series
- L3: CNN Student News with transcript
- L2: My Australia
- L1: extr@ English with subtitles
Source: BBC Learning EnglishMore Series for You: