Challenge Questions

CQ #1A (Intermediate)
We all know that the Sun is bright and hot--AND DON'T LOOK AT IT! But did you know that one of the key things which shapes the Sun's behavior is MAGNETISM? You'll find out more in the videos and hands-on Activities, but--for now--where does the word "magnetism" come from? What's its root?

Magnesium, in Asia Minor, where natural magnetized rocks ("magnetite") were first recognized. Early writers called them "lodestones".

CQ 1B (Advanced)
The Sun is the source of light and life. The core of the Sun is 15,557,000 degrees Kelvin, and each second some 400 trillion, trillion, trillion hydrogen atoms fuse together to release incredible amounts of energy. But just how bright is it at the heart of the Sun?

No brightness: at the center of the Sun "light" is only gamma rays, which are below the wavelength of visible light, where we humans see color.

CQ #2A (Intermediate)
A multi-part math and data question: We say that the Sun is 8.3 light minutes from Earth, and that the next nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years from Earth. Just how many kilometers/miles are those two starsaway?

The Sun is 149,600,000 kilometers or 93,000,000 miles away from Earth. Alpha Centauri is 40,681,440,000,000 kilometers or 25,284,000,000,000 miles away from Earth.

And how long would it take you to get from Earth to the Sun, and to Alpha Centauri, if you were traveling at many states' speed limit of 55 mph? At the speed of sound? At the speed of the Voyager spacecraft?

It would take 1,690,909.09... hours (70,454.54... days and 193.0261519303 years) to reach the Sun from Earth traveling at 55 mph. It would take 459,709,090,909.09... hours (19,154,545,454.54... days and 52,478,206.7247... years) to reach Alpha Centauri from Earth traveling at 55 mph. It would take 120,801.0335917 hours (5,033.376399654 days and 13.79007232782 years) to reach the Sun from Earth traveling at the speed of sound in normal room temperature air. It would take 32,850,000 000 hours (1,368,750,000 days and 3,750,000 years) to reach Alpha Centauri from Earth if you were traveling at the speed of sound in normal room temperature air. The speed of sound in normal room temperature (68 degrees F or 20 degrees C) air is 344 m/s. It would take 1133.303274393 hours (47.22096976639 days and 0.1293725199079 years) to reach the Sun from Earth traveling at the speed of the Voyager 1 spacecraft and 1039.373246756 hours (43.30721861484 days and 0.1186499140133 years) traveling at the speed of the Voyager 2 spacecraft. It would take 308112257.9544 hours (12838010.7481 days and 35,172.63218658 years) to reach Alpha Centauri from Earth if you were traveling at the speed of the Voyager 1 spacecraft and 282,575,410.4407 hours (11,773,975.43503 days and 32,257.46694528 years) traveling at the speed of the Voyager 2 spacecraft. The velocity of the Voyager 1 spacecraft relative to Earth is 36.685 km/sec (82,061 mi/hr) and the velocity of the Voyager 2 spacecraft relative to Earth is 40.000 km/sec (89,477 mi/hr)

CQ #2B (Advanced)
Energy is generated at the heart of the Sun through fusion reactions, yet some of the radiation doesn't make it to the outer layers of the Sun for some 170,000 years: why so?

Radiation does not move quickly through the radiation zone. It diffuses slowly outward in a haphazard or zig-zag motion becoming absorbed, reradiated, and deflected repeatedly.

And a second travel time question: if spacecraft and telescopes can >see< explosive activity on the Sun, why do geomagnetic storms only hit Earth 2-3 days later?

First neutrinos get released in fusion reactions--and since they don't react to anything, they travel out to Earth at the speed of light, 300,000 km/s, and get here in 8 minutes. But they pass through Earth and us, interacting with just about nothing, and going on their merry way. Up in space, SOHO and TRACE see flares in visible and other wavelengths of light--also 8 minutes after they happen. But matter--solar particles emitted from the Sun--can't travel at the speed of light. They're matter, not radiation. They take 2-3 days to get here, slowpokes at only 400-700 km/s, or 1,000,000 mph!

CQ #3A (Intermediate)
If, on a sunny day, you could only look down, what horticultural beauty would tell you the Sun's position? Hint: the artist Van Gogh might help out with this answer!


CQ #3B (Advanced)
If you said (as we've probably done several times in our Guide and Factbook!) "all life on Earth depends on the Sun for existence", would you--strictly speaking--be right or wrong?

Both. Today you can find organisms around the deep-sea vents which live on sulphur and heat-energy from undersea vulcanism, rather than sunlight and photosynthesis. But without the mass of gas which formed the solar nebula and out of which the Sun condensed, there'd be no gas and dust from which the Earth and rocky planets formed... and hence no planet.

CQ #4A (Intermediate)
What's in a name? You can call this phenomenon by the same name as that of the Goddess of the Dawn. Or you can say, more scientifically, that they are the result of charged particles from the Sun interacting with Earth's magnetic field. Either way they are a beautiful reminder that Earth's is literally plugged into the Sun. What are they? And which culture gave this name to that Goddess? Hint: if you live in northern states you have an unfair advantage! But during Solar Maximum students everywhere might get a chance to experience this phenomenon for themselves.

They are auroras. The Roman culture called the Goddess of the Dawn Aurora.

CQ #4B (Advanced)
The Sun flings 1 million tons of matter out into space every second forming what we call the "solar wind." These winds travel from 400-750 or more kilometers per second, a million miles per hour. Yet if you took a stroll out in the solar wind you wouldn't even have to comb your hair. Why?

The density of solar wind is only 10 particles per cubic centimeter compared with 20 million, million, million particles per cubic centimeter in our air on Earth.

CQ #5A (Intermediate)
A question where it will help to have students from different cultures in your class! If not, don't worry--you just might have to use the Web to find out.

(Hint, if you look through a pretty special Window you might find the answer.) What culture here in the Americas has a tradition where there are 5 Suns? And what culture in the East has a tradition where there are 10 Suns?

The culture in the Americas is the Aztecs and the culture in the East is the Chinese. That pretty special Window where you might find the answer is of course the Windows to the Universe site:

CQ #5B (Advanced)
The sunlight that arrives here on Earth began its journey long ago and far away, and took a journey with 3 distinctly different time-scales to get here. Its trip is measured in (a) thousands of years (b) tens of years and (c) minutes. Put some numbers to a, b, and c, and where the light was in each period.

150,000 plus years bouncing around in the radiation zone... 10 years in the convection zone, 8.3 minutes to Earth.

CQ #6A (Intermediate)
I am the world's largest solar telescope. What is my name, where am I, and who am I named after?

The world's largest solar telescope is the McMath - Pierce Telescope which is located just outside Tucson, Arizona at the National Solar Observatory at Kitt Peak. The telescope was named after the late Dr. Robert R. McMath, and Keith Pierce, whom students will see and hear during LIVE FROM THE SUN!

CQ #6B (Advanced)
I am the place where the Sun's and the Earth's gravity are in balance: what is my name and where am I, and who or what "lives" here? And who's going to come visit in the next few years?

The position is Lagrangian Point L1, so called after the French mathematician who pointed it out, Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736-1813). The distance is a million miles from Earth. At this location satellites maintain their relative position more or less in line with Earth, so it sees the Sun all the time, and also maintains contact with Earth. SOHO and ACE are currently located here. TRIANA, which is scheduled to be launched by the end of the calendar year 2000, will be located here.

CQ #7A (Intermediate)
Of course we all know the Sun is much too hot to be home to any living creatures, but during every 11 year solar cycle something does appear and disappear, which we call by the name of a beautiful organism we can see around us on Earth. What creature are we talking about? (Hint: would it help to say that some people call the Sun the monarch of the solar system? Might another hint be that Alice in Wonderland might have confused them with slices of bread? And if students take that hint, why were they watching TV Sunday night rather than doing homework?)

The so-called Butterfly Diagram, which depicts how sunspots cluster in the Sun's northern and southern hemispheres, and certainly do look like the open wings of a butterfly. Of course, the hint was to the Monarch butterfly, and to Alice's adventures with butterflies made out of slices of buttered bread!

CQ #7B (Advanced)
Can you ever find H2O on the Sun? If so, how and why?

Point 1:
Surprising as it may seem, some researchers say they have certain evidence of superheated steam in the relatively cooler sunspot regions. You will find the complete story at:

Point 2:
And since SOHO has shown us images of comets falling into the Sun, at least as they vaporize, there's some water--even if not for very long--in the Sun's outer atmosphere.

CQ #8A: (Intermediate)
"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet?" I'm a feature on the Sun which is called 2 different things, depending on whether you see me (NO, DON'T GO OUT AND LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN!) silhouetted off the Sun's disk against dark space, or on the disk itself. But I'm really just the same feature: researchers just call me different things depending on where they see me. What's my name? And for a bonus point, who wrote that quote? (Hint: this literary comeback kid should be getting quite a boost from the Oscars.)

Off the disk I'm called a prominence, and on the disk a filament. And it was Shakespeare, always in love with words, who wrote the quote. Just about everyone knew the quote came from Shakespeare (My students who missed the answer to the largest solar telescope on the LFSUN poster found this answer on a poster in one of the classrooms.), but no one knew thefeature.

CQ #8B: (Advanced)
There's a foreign language word which is used to describe bright regions around sunspots. The language is that which would have been spoken by the inventor of the coronagraph. What's the word? And what does it mean? What's the language? And who was the inventor?

The word is plage, French for beach and the inventor was Bernard Lyot!