Without the Sun there would be no life on Earth.
Most of us take the Sun for granted because it comes up every morning and goes down every evening. However, this big ball of fire in the sky is the main reason we exist and we depend on it for more reasons that we can imagine.
It has been said that we are all made of star dust. In fact, most of the elements that exist in the universe have their origin in suns like our own. So it’s not too much of a stretch to say that we are indeed made of the stuff of stars.
Without the Sun, the Earth would be lost in space. Sun’s gravity holds us in just the right place to maintain our orbit. Any more and we would fall into the Sun. Any less and we would drift off into the cold, dark universe.
The oxygen produced by plants is intimately dependent on solar radiation to activate photosynthesis.
Not only do plants need light, but we need light as well. Light stimulates our body to generate Vitamin D as well as a whole series of metabolical reactions that beat to a familiar circadian rhythm.
The Sun warms the planet to give us heat. The surplus of heat we receive at the equator is offset by the deficit of heat we receive at the poles. This thermal difference drives air toward the poles creating large scale air circulation in the atmosphere known as convective cells.
The Sun warms the ocean as well as the atmosphere. The two are interconnected and constantly exchange heat and moisture. A warm body of water like the Gulf of Mexico can intensify hurricanes with warm moisture air. On the other hand, atmospheric wind can create ocean waves that can transmit energy and travel across an entire ocean basin.
Tides are another effect that are not only created by our moon but the Sun as well. During a full or new moon when tides are at their peak, the sun contributes to one third of the total height of the tide.
The Dark Side of the Sun
While we relish the warmth and light that the Sun gives us, there are times when our star turns violent and throws a tantrum. This is the darker side of our Sun.
Capable of generating intense solar flares, the intensity of these events can wreak havoc on a number of Earth systems and our whole space environment.
A solar flare directed at Earth can set up electric currents in the ionosphere that disrupt radio and satellite TV signals. The resulting geomagnetic storm can even short circuit communications satellites and render them useless.
Closer to earth, geomagnetic storms can bring about electric currents in the earth (called induced currents) that can pose a hazard to transmission lines and the national grid. In 1989 a severe geomagnetic storm brought down the power grid in southeastern Canada leaving more than 6 million people without power.
Induced electric currents in the earth can also increase the corrosion rate of steel pipelines. Many pipes already have a tiny current flowing through them to insulate them from the moisture of soil and elements. However, if there are additional currents flowing in the surrounding ground, then the pipes can become temporarily unprotected from corrosion.
Induced electric currents are also known to change the pore pressure in fluid filled spaces in rocks. This principle is used in electroosmotic pumps to move hydrocarbons in porous media as well as to move water in clay slurries. Whether this pore pressure change in fault zones is enough to generate earthquakes remains to be seen.
Intense solar wind can also slow down GPS satellites and may cause them to drop a bit from their defined orbit. This in turn, affects the GPS signal timing and can lead to errors in GPS locations and navigation systems. Believe it or not but homing pigeons can also become disoriented and lost during strong geomagnetic storms.
On the more unusual side, a little known study reported the effect that geomagnetic storms have on the stock market. The researchers cite ample research on how these storms affect mood which is directly tied to an individual’s perception of risk in the stock market. They show how all US stock indices are negatively affected by storms.
These examples illustrate some of the many ways in which the Sun affects our environment, both good and bad. While we can’t always live with the bad, we certainly can’t live without the good.