A solar flare erupting (Photo: NASA/JPL)
The tour begins with the 4.5-billion-year-old star at the center of the solar system, the Sun. As the most massive object around, the sun’s gravity is the glue that holds the solar system together, keeping everything from the biggest planets to the smallest bits of debris in orbit around it. The sun’s activity, from powerful eruptions to the steady stream of charged particles it sends out, influences the nature of space throughout the solar system and provides a protective bubble that shields the planets from damaging galactic radiation. A hot, glowing ball of mostly hydrogen and helium, the Sun emits its own radiation—mainly visible, ultraviolet, x-ray, and infrared. It is the most important source of energy for life on Earth. George Mason University astrophysicist and cosmologist Hakeem Oluseyi shines a light on what astronomers already know about the sun and what they are still trying to understand.
The Grand Tour of the Solar System series treks to the Sun and the four inner terrestrial planets before traveling outward to the asteroid belt, four Jovian planets, and beyond. At each session, a professional astronomer explores a solar system body, presenting the latest research.
Following the talk and a question-and-answer period, Peter Plavchan, a professor of physics and astronomy at George Mason University, brings that night’s sky right into participants’ living rooms via remote control of the university observatory, weather permitting.
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