How We Know About the Sun

Because the Sun is so important to us, we want to know as much about it as possible. But the Sun is too bright to look at, and too hot and fiery and far away to visit. How do scientists learn about the Sun?

Outer space is a good place to study the Sun. Far away from the dust and moisture of Earth's atmosphere, astronauts use special cameras to take pictures of the Sun.

Space probes travel millions of miles into space—farther than any astronaut could ever go. The space probe SOHO was specially designed to study the Sun's surface, temperature, and brightness.

Almost 400 years ago, the Italian scientist Galileo built his own telescopes to study the sky. Galileo discovered that the Sun rotates, or spins, and that its surface is dotted with sunspots. He learned more about the Sun, the Moon, and other planets than anyone before him.

Today, scientists study the Sun using huge telescopes like the McMath Solar Telescope in Arizona. This telescope doesn't look much like the one Galileo used or like the ones you may have at home or school, does it? The McMath Solar Telescope uses mirrors to reflect light from the Sun, so scientists can safely study its images. Even scientists don't look directly at the Sun.

Vocabulary

atmosphere:
The air that surrounds the Earth.

telescope:
A telescope is a tool that helps people see things that are far away. Telescopes are made of curved pieces of glass or mirrors inside a tube. People can use them to look at stars.

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Activity

  1. What does the space probe SOHO study?
    [anno: The space probe SOHO studies the Sun's surface, temperature, and brightness.]
  2. Why is it easier to study the Sun from space?
    [anno: It is easier to study the Sun from space because there is no dust or moisture blocking the view of the Sun.]
  3. Why do you think scientists study the Sun?
    [anno: Answers will vary. Students may suggest that scientists study the Sun to know more about how old the Sun is, how powerful the Sun is, and whether the Sun is changing.]