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Sun Elements

March 24, 2008

A listener asks: What is the sun made of?


The elements of the sun. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Kaia Lawton of Saint Paul, Minnesota wrote to ask what the sun is made of. We turned to Terry Kucera, a solar physicist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. She says unlike the earth, which is made primarily of liquids and solids, the sun consists of electrically charged gas.

Something called plasma, which you can think of as an ionized gas. The sun is so hot, everything is ionized.

And she says two gases predominate.

TERRY KUCERA (NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center):
The sun is mostly made out of hydrogen. About 70%. And hydrogen is the lightest element there is. There’s then about 28% helium, which is the next lightest element.

She says all of the other elements we’re familiar with here on earth like nitrogen and carbon make up only the remaining 2% of the sun. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.