What are the Parts of the Sun?

The interior structure of the Sun. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/kelvinsong

From here on Earth, the Sun like a smooth ball of light. And prior to Galileo’s discovery of sunposts, astronomers even thought it was a perfect orb with no imperfections. However, thanks to improved instruments and many centuries of study, we know that the Sun is much like the planets of our Solar System.

In addition to imperfections on its surface, the Sun is also made up of several layers, each of which serves its own purpose. It’s this structure of the Sun that powers this massive engine that provides the planets with all the light and heat they receive. And here on Earth, it is what provides all life forms with the energy they need to thrive and survive.


If you could take the Sun apart, and stack up its various elements, you would find that the Sun is made of hydrogen (74%) and helium (about 24%). Astronomers consider anything heavier than helium to be a metal. The remaining amount of the Sun is made of iron, nickel, oxygen, silicon, sulfur, magnesium, carbon, neon, calcium and chromium. In fact, the Sun is 1% oxygen; and everything else comes out of that last 1%.

Where did these elements come from? The hydrogen and helium came from the Big Bang. In the early moments of the Universe, the first element, hydrogen, formed from the soup of elementary particles. The pressure and temperatures were still so intense that the entire Universe had the same conditions as the core of a star.

Hydrogen was fused into helium until the Universe cooled down enough that this reaction couldn’t happen any more. The ratios of hydrogen and helium that we see in the Universe today were created in those first few moments after the Big Bang. The other elements were created in other stars. Stars are constantly fusing hydrogen into helium in their cores.

Once the hydrogen in the core runs out, they switch to fusing heavier and heavier elements, like helium, lithium, oxygen. Most of the heavier metals we see in the Sun were formed in other stars at the end of their lives. The heaviest elements, like gold and uranium, were formed when stars many times more massive that our Sun detonated in supernova explosions.

In a fraction of a second, as a black hole was forming, elements were crushed together in the intense heat and pressure to form the heaviest elements. The explosion scattered these elements across the region, where they could contribute to the formation of new stars.

Our Sun is made up of elements left over from the Big Bang, elements formed from dying stars, and elements created in supernovae. That’s pretty amazing.


Although the Sun is mostly just a ball of hydrogen and helium, it’s actually broken up into distinct layers. The layers of the Sun are created because the temperatures and pressures increase as you move towards the center of the Sun. The hydrogen and helium behave differently under the changing conditions.

The Core: Let’s start at the innermost layer of the Sun, the core of the Sun. This is the very center of the Sun, where temperatures and pressures are so high that fusion can happen. The Sun is combining hydrogen into helium atoms, and this reaction gives off the light and heat that we see here on Earth. The density of the core is 150 times the density of water, and the temperatures are thought to be 13,600,000 degrees Kelvin.

Astronomers believe that the core of the Sun extends from the center out to about 0.2 solar radius. And within this region, temperatures and pressures are so high that hydrogen atoms are torn apart to form separate protons, neutrons and electrons. With all of these free floating particles, the Sun is able to reform them into atoms of helium.

This reaction is exothermic. That means that the reaction gives off a tremendous amount of heat – 3.89 x 1033 ergs of energy every second. The light pressure of all this energy streaming from the core of the Sun is what stops it from collapsing inward on itself.

Radiative Zone: The radiative zone of the Sun starts at the edge of the core of the Sun (0.2 solar radii), and extends up to about 0.7 radii. Within the radiative zone, the solar material is hot and dense enough that thermal radiation transfers the heat of the core outward through the Sun.

The core of the Sun is where nuclear fusion reactions are happening – protons are merged together to create atoms of helium. This reaction produces a tremendous amount of gamma radiation. These photons of energy are emitted, absorbed, and then emitted again by various particles in the radiative zone.

The path that photons take is called the “random walk”. Instead of going in a straight beam of light, they travel in a zigzag direction, eventually reaching the surface of the Sun. In fact, it can take a single photon upwards of 200,000 years to make the journey through the radiative zone of the Sun.

As they transfer from particle to particle, the photons lose energy. That’s a good thing, since we wouldn’t want only gamma radiation streaming from the Sun. Once these photons reach space, they take a mere 8 minutes to get to Earth.

Most stars will have radiative zones, but their size depends on the star’s size. Small stars will have much smaller radiative zones, and the convective zone will take up a larger portion of the star’s interior. The smallest stars might not have a radiative zone at all, with the convective zone reaching all the way down to the core. The largest stars would have the opposite situation, where the radiative zone reaches all the way up to the surface.

Convective Zone: Outside the radiative zone is another layer, called the convective zone, where heat from inside the Sun is carried up by columns of hot gas. Most stars have a convective zone. In the case of the Sun, it starts at around 70% of the Sun’s radius and goes to the outer surface (the photosphere).

Gas deeper inside the star is heated up so that it rises, like globs of wax in a lava lamp. As it gets to the surface, the gas loses some of its heat, cools down, and sinks back towards the center to pick up more heat. Another example would be a pot of boiling water on the stove.

The surface of the Sun looks granulated. These granules are the columns of hot gas that carry heat to the surface. They can be more than 1,000 km across, and typically last about 8 to 20 minutes before dissipating. Astronomers think that low mass stars, like red dwarfs, have a convective zone that goes all the way down to the core. Unlike the Sun, they don’t have a radiative zone at all.

Photosphere: The layer of the Sun that we can see from Earth is called the photosphere. Below the photosphere, the Sun becomes opaque to visible light, and astronomers have to use other methods to probe its interior. The temperature of the photosphere is about 6,000 Kelvin, and gives off the yellow-white light that we see.

Above the photosphere is the atmosphere of the Sun. Perhaps the most dramatic of these is the corona, which is visible during a total solar eclipse.

This graphic shows a model of the layers of the Sun, with approximate mileage ranges for each layer: for the inner layers, the mileage is from the sun's core; for the outer layers, the mileage is from the sun's surface. The inner layers are the Core, Radiative Zone and Convection Zone. The outer layers are the Photosphere, the Chromosphere, the Transition Region and the Corona. Credit: NASA
Graphic showing a model of the layers of the Sun, with approximate mileage ranges for each layer. Credit: NASA


Below is a diagram of the Sun, originally developed by NASA for educational purposes.

  • Visible, IR and UV radiation – The light that we see coming from the Sun is visible, but if you close your eyes and just feel the warmth, that’s IR, or infrared radiation. And the light that gives you a sunburn is ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The Sun produces all of these wavelengths at the same time.
  • Photosphere 6000 K – The photosphere is the surface of the Sun. This is the region where light from the interior finally reaches space. The temperature is 6000 K, which is the same as 5,700 degrees C.
  • Photosphere 6000 K – The photosphere is the surface of the Sun. This is the region where light from the interior finally reaches space. The temperature is 6000 K, which is the same as 5,700 degrees C.
  • Radio emissions – In addition to visible, IR and UV, the Sun also gives off radio emissions, which can be detected by a radio telescope. These emissions rise and fall depending on the number of sunspots on the surface of the Sun.
  • Coronal Hole – These are regions on the Sun where the corona is cooler, darker and has less dense plasma.
  • 2100000 – This is the temperature of the Sun’s radiative zone.
  • Convective zone/Turbulent convection – This is the region of the Sun where heat from the core is transferred through convection. Warm columns of plasma rise to the surface in columns, release their heat and then fall back down to heat up again.
  • Coronal loops – These are loops of plasma in the Sun’s atmosphere that follows magnetic flux lines. They look like big arches, stretching up from the surface of the Sun for hundreds of thousands of kilometers.
  • Core – The is the heart of the Sun, where the temperatures and pressures are so high that nuclear fusion reactions can happen. All of the energy coming from the Sun originates from the core.
  • 14500000 K – The temperature of the core of the Sun.
  • Radiative Zone – The region of the Sun where energy can only be transferred through radiation. It can take a single photon 200,000 years to get from the core, through the radiative zone, out to the surface and into space.
  • Neutrinos – Neutrinos are nearly mass-less particles blasted out from the Sun as part of the fusion reactions. There are millions of neutrinos passing through your body every second, but they don’t interact, so you can’t feel them.
  • Chromospheric Flare – The Sun’s magnetic field can get twisted up and then snap into a different configuration. When this happens, there can be powerful X-ray flares emanating from the surface of the Sun.
  • Magnetic Field Loop – The Sun’s magnetic field extends out above its surface, and can be seen because hot plasma in the atmosphere follows the field lines.
  • Spot – A sunspot. These are areas on the Sun’s surface where the magnetic field lines pierce the surface of the Sun, and they’re relatively cooler than the surrounding areas.
  • Prominence – A bright feature that extends above the surface of the Sun, often in the shape of a loop.
  • Energetic particles – There can be energetic particles blasting off the surface of the Sun to create the solar wind. In solar storms, energetic protons can be accelerated to nearly the speed of light.
  • X-rays – In addition to the wavelengths we can see, there are invisible X-rays coming from the Sun, especially during flares. The Earth’s atmosphere protects us from this radiation.
  • Bright spots and short-lived magnetic regions – The surface of the Sun has many brighter and dimmer spots caused by changing temperature. The temperature changes from the constantly shifting magnetic field.

Yes, the Sun is like an onion. Peel back one layer and you’ll find many more. But in this case, each layers is responsible for a different function. And what they add to is a giant furnace and light source that keeps us living beings here on Earth warm and illuminated!

And be sure to enjoy this video from the NASA Goddard Center, titled “Snapshots from the Edge of the Sun”:

We have written many interesting articles about the Sun here at Universe Today. Here’s Ten Interesting Facts About the Sun, What Color is the Sun?, What is the Life Cycle of the Sun?, What Kind of Star is the Sun?, How Far is the Earth from the Sun?, and Could We Terraform the Sun?

For more information, check out NASA’s page on the Sun, and Sun Facts at Eight Planets.

Astronomy Cast also has an episode on the subject: Episode 320: The Layers of the Sun


What Is The Surface of Neptune Like?

Neptune Hurricanes
The "surface" of Neptune, its uppermost layer, is one of the most turbulent and active places in the Solar System. Credit: NASA/JPL

As a gas giant (or ice giant), Neptune has no solid surface. In fact, the blue-green disc we have all seen in photographs over the years is actually a bit of an illusion. What we see is actually the tops of some very deep gas clouds, which in turn give way to water and other melted ices that lie over an approximately Earth-size core made of silicate rock and a nickel-iron mix. If a person were to attempt to stand on Neptune, they would sink through the gaseous layers.

As they descended, they would experience increased temperatures and pressures until they finally touched down on the solid core itself. That being said, Neptune does have a surface of sorts, (as with the other gas and ice giants) which is defined by astronomers as being the point in the atmosphere where the pressure reaches one bar. Because of this, Neptune’s surface is one of the most active and dynamic places in entire the Solar System.

Continue reading “What Is The Surface of Neptune Like?”

Getting to the Core of Earth’s Falling Snow

Visualization of the GPM Core Observatory and Partner Satellites. Credit: NASA


An international plan is unfolding that will launch satellites into orbit to study global snowfall precipitation with unprecedented detail. With the upcoming Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellites, for the first time we will know when, where and how much snow falls on Earth, allowing greater understanding of energy cycles and how best to predict extreme weather.

Snow is more than just a pretty winter decoration… it’s also a very important contributor to fresh water supply in many regions around the world, especially those areas that rely on spring runoff from mountains.

The snowmelt from the Sierra Nevadas, for example, accounts for a third of the water supply for California.

But changing climate and recent drought conditions have affected how much snow the mountains receive in winter… and thus how much water is released in the spring. Unfortunately, as of now there’s no reliable way to comprehensively detect and measure falling snow from space… whether in the Sierras or the Andes or the Alps.

Engineers are building and testing the GPM Core Observatory at Goddard Space Flight Center. (NASA/GSFC)

The GPM Core satellite, slated to launch in 2014, will change that.

“The GPM Core, with its ability to detect falling snows, it’s one of the very first times that we’ve put sensors in space to specifically look at falling snow,” said GPM Deputy Project Scientist Gail Skofronick-Jackson in an online video. “We’re at that edge where rain was fifty years ago. We’re still figuring out how to measure snow.”

And why is snow such a difficult subject to study?

“Rain tends to be spherical like drops,” says Skofronick-Jackson. “But if you’ve ever been out in a snowfall and you’ve looked at your shirt, you see the snow comes in all different forms.”

Once GPM scientists calculate all the various types of snowflake shapes, the satellite will be able to detect them from orbit.

“The GPM Core, with its additional frequencies and information on the sensors, is going to be able to provide us for the first time a lot more information about falling snow than we’ve ever done before.”

Knowing where and how much snow and rain falls globally is vital to understanding how weather and climate impact both our environment and Earth’s energy cycles, including effects on agriculture, fresh water availability, and responses to natural disasters.

Snowfall is a missing part of the puzzle, and GPM will fill those pieces in.

Find out more about the GPM program at pmm.nasa.gov/GPM.

GPM Core is currently being assembled at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and scheduled to launch in 2014 on a Japanese H-IIA rocket.  Initiated by NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), GPM consists of a consortium of international agencies, including the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), and others. 

New Insights into the Moon’s Mysterious Magnetic Field

Lunar Dynamo
Moon with cut-away showing stylized interior with dynamo and magnetic field lines.

Ever since the Apollo era, scientist have known that the Moon had some kind of magnetic field in the past, but doesn’t have one now. Understanding why is important, because it can tell us how magnetic fields are generated, how long they last, and how they shut down. New studies of Apollo lunar samples answer some of these questions, but they also create many more questions to be answered.

The lunar samples returned by the Apollo missions show evidence of magnetization. Rocks are magnetized when they are heated and then cooled in a magnetic field. As they cool below the Curie temperature (about 800 degrees C, depending on the material), the metallic particles in the rock line up along ambient magnetic fields and freeze in that position, producing a remnant magnetization.

This magnetization can also be measured from space. Studies from orbiting satellites show that the Moon’s magnetization extends well beyond the regions sampled by Apollo astronauts. All this magnetization means that the Moon must have had a magnetic field at some point in its early history.

Most of the magnetic fields we know of in the Solar System are generated by a dynamo. Basically, this involves convection in a metallic liquid core, which effectively moves the metal atoms’ electrons, creating an electric current. This current then induces a magnetic field. The convection itself is thought to be driven by cooling. As the outer core cools, the colder portions sink to the interior and let the warmer interior sections move outwards towards the exterior.

Because the Moon is so small, a magnetic dynamo that is driven by convective cooling is expected to have shut down some time around 4.2 billion years ago. So, evidence of magnetization after this time would need either 1) an energy source other than cooling to drive the motion of a liquid core, or 2) a completely different mechanism for creating magnetic fields.

Laboratory experiments have suggested one such alternate method. Large basin-forming impacts could produce short-lived magnetic fields on the Moon, which would be recorded in the hot materials ejected during the impact event. In fact, some observations of magnetization are located at the opposite side of the Moon (the antipode) from large basins.

So, how can you tell if magnetization in a rock was formed by a core dynamo or an impact event? Well, impact-induced magnetic fields last only about 1 day. If a rock cooled very slowly, it would not record such a short-lived magnetic field, so any magnetism it retains must have been produced by a dynamo. Also, rocks that have been involved in impacts show evidence of shock in their minerals.

One lunar sample, number 76535, which shows evidence of slow cooling and no shock effects, has a distinct remnant magnetization. This, along with the age of the sample, suggests that the Moon had a liquid core and a dynamo-generated magnetic field 4.2 billion years ago. Such a core dynamo is consistent with convective cooling. But, what if there are younger samples?

New studies recently published in Science by Erin Shea and her colleagues suggest this may be the case. Ms Shea, a graduate student at MIT, and her team studied sample 10020, a 3.7 billion year old mare basalt brought back by the Apollo 11 astronauts. They demonstrated that sample 10020 shows no evidence of shock in its minerals. They estimated that the sample took more than 12 days to cool, which is much slower than the lifetime of an impact-induced magnetic field. And they found that the sample is very strongly magnetized.

From their studies, Ms Shea and her colleagues conclude that the Moon had a strong magnetic dynamo, and therefore a moving metallic core, around 3.7 billion years ago. This is well after the time a convective cooling dynamo would have shut down. It is not clear, however, if the dynamo was continually active since 4.2 billion years ago, or if the mechanism that moved the liquid core was the same at 4.2 and 3.8 billion years. So, what other ways are there to keep a liquid core moving?

Recent studies by a team of French and Belgian scientists, led by Dr. Le Bars, suggest that large impacts can unlock the Moon from its synchronous rotation with the Earth. This would create tides in the liquid core, much like the Earth’s oceans. These core tides would cause significant distortions at the core-mantle boundary, which could drive large-scale flows in the core, creating a dynamo.

In another recent study, Dr. Dwyer and colleagues suggested that precession of the lunar spin axis could stir the liquid core. The early Moon’s proximity to the Earth would have made the Moon’s spin axis wobble. This precession would cause different motions in the liquid core and overlying solid mantle, producing a long-lasting (longer than 1 billion years) mechanical stirring of the core. Dr. Dwyer and his team estimate that such a dynamo would naturally shut down about 2.7 billion years ago as the Moon moved away from the Earth over time, diminishing its gravitational influence.

Unfortunately, the magnetic field suggested by the study of sample 10020 doesn’t fit either of these possibilities. Both these models would provide magnetic fields that are too weak to have produced the strong magnetization observed in sample 10020. Another method for mobilizing the liquid core of the Moon will need to be found in order to explain these new findings.

A Long-Lived Lunar Core Dynamo. Shea, et al. Science 27, January 2012, 453-456. doi:10.1126/science.1215359.

A long-lived lunar dynamo driven by continuous mechanical stirring. Le Bars et al. Nature 479, November 2011, 212-214. doi:10.1038/nature10564.

An impact-driven dynamo for the early Moon. Dwyer et al. Nature 479, November 2011, 215-218. doi:10.1038/nature10565.

How the Moon Became Magnetized

astronauts faced possible radiation dangers on the Moon.
Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt at Tracy Rock on the lunar surface. If a solar storm had hit the Moon while the astronauts were on the surface exploring, it could have been a disaster. Credit: NASA.


It’s been a mystery ever since the Apollo astronauts brought back samples of lunar rocks in the early 1970s. Some of the rocks had magnetic properties, especially one collected by geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. But how could this happen? The Moon has no magnetosphere, and most previously accepted theories state that it never did. Yet here we have these moon rocks with undeniable magnetic properties… there was definitely something missing in our understanding of Earth’s satellite.

Now a team of researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz thinks they may have cracked this enigmatic magnetic mystery.

In order for a world to have a magnetic field, it needs to have a molten core. Earth has a multi-layered molten core, in which heat from the interior layer drives motion within the iron-rich outer layer, creating a magnetic field that extends far out into space. Without a magnetosphere Earth would have been left exposed to the solar wind and life as we know it could may never have developed.

Apollo 17 lunar rock sample

Simply put, Earth’s magnetic field is crucial to life… and it can imbue rocks with magnetic properties that are sensitive to the planet-wide field.

But the Moon is much smaller than Earth, and has no molten core, at least not anymore… or so it was once believed. Research of data from the seismic instruments left on the lunar surface during Apollo EVAs recently revealed that the Moon may in fact still have a partially-liquid core, and based on a paper published in the November 10 issue of Nature by Christina Dwyer, a graduate student in Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her co-authors Francis Nimmo at UCSC and David Stevenson at the California Institute of Technology, this small liquid core may once have been able to produce a lunar magnetic field after all.

The Moon orbits on its axis at such a rate that the same side always faces Earth, but it also has a slight wobble in the alignment of its axis (as does Earth.) This wobble is called precession. Precession was stronger due to tidal forces when the Moon was closer to Earth early in its history. Dwyer et al. suggest that the Moon’s precession could have literally “stirred” its liquid core, since the surrounding solid mantle would have moved at a different rate.

This stirring effect – arising from the mechanical motions of the Moon’s rotation and precession, not internal convection – could have created a dynamo effect, resulting in a magnetic field.

This field may have persisted for some time but it couldn’t last forever, the team said. As the Moon gradually moved further away from Earth the precession rate slowed, bringing the stirring process – and the dynamo – to a halt.

“The further out the moon moves, the slower the stirring, and at a certain point the lunar dynamo shuts off,” said Christina Dwyer.

Still, the team’s model provides a basis for how such a dynamo could have existed, possibly for as long as a billion years. This would have been long enough to form rocks that would still exhibit some magnetic properties to this day.

The team admits that more paleomagnetic research is needed to know for sure if their proposed core/mantle interaction would have created the right kind of movements within the liquid core to create a lunar dynamo.

“Only certain types of fluid motions give rise to magnetic dynamos,” Dwyer said. “We calculated the power that’s available to drive the dynamo and the magnetic field strengths that could be generated. But we really need the dynamo experts to take this model to the next level of detail and see if it works.”

In other words, they’re still working towards a theory of lunar magnetism that really sticks.


Read the article by Tim Stephens on the UCSC website.


Hubble Finds “Oddball” Stars in Milky Way Hub

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope to peer deep into the central bulge of our galaxy have found a population of rare and unusual stars. Dubbed “blue stragglers”, these stars seem to defy the aging process, appearing to be much younger than they should be considering where they are located. Previously known to exist within ancient globular clusters, blue stragglers have never been seen inside our galaxy’s core – until now.

The stars were discovered following a seven-day survey in 2006 called SWEEPS – the Sagittarius Window Eclipsing Extrasolar Planet Search – that used Hubble to search a section of the central portion of our Milky Way galaxy, looking for the presence of Jupiter-sized planets transiting their host stars. During the search, which examined 180,000 stars, Hubble spotted 42 blue stragglers.

Of the 42 it’s estimated that 18 to 37 of them are genuine.

What makes blue stragglers such an unusual find? For one thing, stars in the galactic hub should appear much older and cooler… aging Sun-like stars and old red dwarfs. Scientists believe that the central bulge of the Milky Way stopped making new stars billions of years ago. So what’s with these hot, blue, youthful-looking “oddballs”? The answer may lie in their formation.

Artist's concept of a blue straggler pair. NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

A blue straggler may start out as a smaller member of a binary pair of stars. Over time the larger star ages and gets even bigger, feeding material onto the smaller one. This fuels fusion in the smaller star which then grows hotter, making it shine brighter and bluer – thus appearing similar to a young star.

However they were formed, just finding the blue stragglers was no simple task. The stars’ orbits around the galactic core had to be determined through a confusing mix of foreground stars within a very small observation area. The region of the sky Hubble studied was no larger than the width of a fingernail held at arm’s length! Still, within that small area Hubble could see over 250,000 stars. Incredible.

“Only the superb image quality and stability of Hubble allowed us to make this measurement in such a crowded field.”

– Lead author Will Clarkson, Indiana University in Bloomington and the University of California in Los Angeles

The discovery of these rare stars will help astronomers better understand star formation in the Milky Way’s hub and thus the evolution of our galaxy as a whole.

Read more on the Hubble News Center.

Image credit: NASAESA, W. Clarkson (Indiana University and UCLA), and K. Sahu (STScI)

Why is the Center of the Earth Hot

Earth's core.
Earth's core.


It interesting that we have explored further into space than we have explored the depths of the Earth. The main reason for that is the pressure and the heat. We know through seismography that temperatures in the inner parts of the Earth actually exceed the surface temperature of the Sun! That is pretty hot. So why is the center of the Earth Hot. The answer comes from a lot different sources. The first is heat left over from the formation of the Earth. The next source is gravitational pressure put on core by tidal forces and the rotation of the Earth. The last known source of heat is the radioactive decay of elements in the inner part of the Earth.

The Earth is pretty old at 4 billion years old and there are still things we don’t completely understand about its formation. We do know that gravity played a role pulling in more matter and compressing it to form the Earth. When you have matter colliding at high velocities like it did in the early stages of the Solar System’s development all that kinetic energy has to go somewhere. In the case of Earth that energy was turned into heat. This heat is the initial source for the temperatures in the Earth’s interior.

The next source of heat is gravitational pressure. The Earth is under immense pressure due to the tidal forces exerted by the Sun, the Moon, and the other planets in the Solar System. When you include the fact that it is also rotating the Earth’s core is under immense pressure. This pressure basically keeps the core hot in the same way as a pressure cooker. It also helps to minimize the heat it loses.

The last and most important source of heat is nuclear fission of heavly elements in the Earth’s interior. In short the Earth has a nuclear engine inside it. It is thank to the continous nuclear fission of elements in the Earth’s interior that replaces the heat the Earth loses keeping it nice and hot. This fission process occurs in the form of radioactive decay. It also creates the convection currents in the mantle that drive plate tectonics.

We have written many articles about the Earth’s core for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the Earth’s outer core, and here are some interesting facts about the Earth.

If you’d like more info on Earth, check out NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide on Earth. And here’s a link to NASA’s Earth Observatory.

We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about planet Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.


Earth’s Layers For Kids

My son recently came back from a science day camp with one of the coolest things. It was a model of the Earth that he had created out of modeling clay. It showed the internal structure of the Earth, and because he built it, he was able to remember all of the layers of the Earth. Very cool. So here’s a good way to learn the Earth layers for kids.

To make your own, you need some modeling clay of different colors. You start by making a ball about 1.2 cm across. This represents the Earth’s inner core. Then you make a second ball about 3 cm across. This ball represents the Earth’s outer core. Then you make a third ball about 6 cm across. This ball represents the Earth’s mantle. And finally, you make some flattened pieces of clay that will be the Earth’s crust. To make it extra realistic, make some pieces blue and others green.

Take inner core and surround it with the outer core, and then surround that by the mantle. Cover the entire mantle with a thin layer of blue, and then put on some green continents on top of the blue.

If you’ve been really careful, you should be able to take a sharp knife and slice your Earth ball in half. You should be able to see the Earth’s layers inside, just like you’d see the real Earth’s layers. And you can see that the mantle is thicker underneath the Earth’s continents than it is under the oceans.

Here’s a link with more information from Purdue University so you can do the experiment yourself.

If you’re interested in teaching your children Earth science, here’s lots of information about volcanoes for kids.

We have also recorded a whole episode of Astronomy Cast just about Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.