Sol: A Great Big Ball of Burning....Iron?
July 24, 2002 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Sol: A Great Big Ball of Burning....Iron? Well that's what a UMRolla professor thinks anyway -- instead of being mostly hydrogen, that the sun is actually mostly iron. He's going against all popular belief, and indeed lots of evidence, but his theory states that our sun formed around the iron core of an old supernova.
posted by LuxFX (13 comments total)
the sun is a mass of incandescent .... metal
a great big nuclear furnace

where hydrogen is built into helium (but not as much as before)

at a temperature of millions of degrees.

just doesn't have the same ring to it. i was reading the justifications on why we probably AREN'T supernova remnants, and the fact that the stellar winds from the explosion would have emptied out a few light years of space, well, makes me think this is crackheaded. we'll find out one of these years.
posted by taumeson at 7:20 AM on July 24, 2002

You mean it's not a churning urn of burning funk?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:21 AM on July 24, 2002

Perhaps our solar system is just one big orrery after all.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:23 AM on July 24, 2002

Though I don't think much of the theory, I like that mainstream press is still able and willing to find and put out stories like these. It makes it easier for other, more reasonable but still unconventional theories to make it into the public mind for consideration, and tempers the notions of grand scientific coverups that are part of the crackpot stock in trade.
posted by holycola at 7:32 AM on July 24, 2002

Here's the life story of the sun in the currently accepted version, very simply related, including the bit where the earth becomes as hot as Venus, the oceans turn to steam, and (presumably) humans turn up the air-conditioning.
posted by Faze at 7:39 AM on July 24, 2002

By the way, I'm sure you've all heard "Why Does the Sun Shine?" by They Might Be Giants

("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.")

Well, here's a site dedicated to science songs, that not only features the original version of "Why Does the Sun Shine" but "What Is A Shooting Star?", "Longitude And Latitude", "It's A Scientific Fact", "Ballad Of Sir Isaac Newton", "Friction", "Why Are Stars Of Different Colors" and many more science-flavored hits!
posted by Faze at 7:48 AM on July 24, 2002

But everyone knows that GOD made the sun!
posted by aacheson at 8:19 AM on July 24, 2002

my favorite science song is "entropy" by Moxy Fruvous :) Galileo, Newton, Watts, they were geniuses all...

I agree, I think this guy is a crackpot. There is just soooo much evidence against him.... In addition to the disputes mentioned in the article, here a few that I can think of:
  • the neutrino signature we receive from the sun is exactly what we would expect from a star with the sun's composition
  • the chromotography readings we receive from the sun match up with hydrogen burning -- if the sun were burning lots of iron it would be a much redder sun, like a late-life red giant
  • since the sun's diameter is well known, a greater amount of iron than we current believe would result in an immensly heavier star, meaning stronger gravity towards the sun -- but this is not true because we can look at the orbits of the planets and figure the sun's gravity
  • since the sun's diameter is well known, and the sun's gravitation is known, a large core of iron in the sun would mean that the gaseous upper layers would have to be incredibly thin to total the same mass that we measure the sun at -- so thin that nuclear fusion would not be possible
  • a supernova leaves the remaining core spinning extremely fast, which we see no evidence of in regards to the sun
  • etc...
I don't know what this guy was smoking, but I'm suddenly glad I decided against UMRolla.
posted by LuxFX at 8:25 AM on July 24, 2002

One goes to UMR to study Engineering, not Cosmology. That and to drink heavily during Saint Pat's...
posted by nomisxid at 8:45 AM on July 24, 2002

when I was considering schools, I was looking for a school for Physics (not that I ended up majoring in physics...), and I remember getting TONS of material from UMRolla! If anyone is associated with UMRolla, forgive the joke, I meant no offense! I still think this prof. is a bit off though...
posted by LuxFX at 9:06 AM on July 24, 2002

hmmm, one thing i seem to remember is something like:

"Finally, when an iron core is reached, no further fusion reactions can occur and the star explodes in a supernova."

Now this quote is taken slightly out of context from here, and it's refering to very hi mass stars. Some stars fade away getting dimmer and dimmer; white dwarfs. Most novae. And other, more massive starts super novae. And some extremely massive sols will not be able to escape their own gravity, and ...

Duh, I got carried away with this linking thing. My original point was, what all these different types of star life cycles have in common, is that iron is the first element they cannot fuse in a "regular" life process. It takes a super nova to create any element higher on the chart than iron.

So what I don't get about this guys' theory, is how a mostly iron cored star could produce any energy at all?
posted by folktrash at 10:16 AM on July 24, 2002

if i recall from astronomy correctly, there is some iron in our son. by the process of nuclear fusion, hydrogen fuses with other hydrogen to become helium. that process releases an incredibly intense burst of energy in compensation for the loss of mass in the H to He conversion. in turn, helium combines with helium to become another gas, and so on. eventually, you get iron and you get yet more complicated elements. suns have trace amounts of nearly all elements, but they mostly have hydrogen (which comprises the vast bulk of the mass in our galaxy).
posted by moz at 11:26 AM on July 24, 2002

moz - almost, but you really can't go beyond iron with fusion. the heavier elements are formed when the whole thing goes bang as a supernova (which, incidentally, fries a lot of the iron in the process).

(for the life of me i can't remember why it goes bang though, and my partner - who lectured this earlier this year - can't give me a convincing explanation either).

oh, and the trace of elements heavier than iron in the sun are there because it's made from gas that has already been through at least one supernova. the universe is old :-)

(all iirc)
posted by andrew cooke at 5:35 PM on July 24, 2002

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