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Thought Questions

AstronomyThought Questions

Thought Questions


Someone suggests that astronomers build a special gamma-ray detector to detect gamma rays produced during the proton-proton chain in the core of the Sun, just like they built a neutrino detector. Explain why this would be a fruitless effort.


Earth contains radioactive elements whose decay produces neutrinos. How might we use neutrinos to determine how these elements are distributed in Earth’s interior?


The Sun is much larger and more massive than Earth. Do you think the average density of the Sun is larger or smaller than that of Earth? Write down your answer before you look up the densities. Now find the values of the densities elsewhere in this text. Were you right? Explain clearly the meanings of density and mass.


A friend who has not had the benefit of an astronomy course suggests that the Sun must be full of burning coal to shine as brightly as it does. List as many arguments as you can against this hypothesis.


Which of the following transformations is (are) fusion and which is (are) fission: helium to carbon, carbon to iron, uranium to lead, boron to carbon, oxygen to neon? (See Appendix K for a list of the elements.)


Why is a higher temperature required to fuse hydrogen to helium by means of the CNO cycle than is required by the process that occurs in the Sun, which involves only isotopes of hydrogen and helium?


Earth’s atmosphere is in hydrostatic equilibrium. What this means is that the pressure at any point in the atmosphere must be high enough to support the weight of air above it. How would you expect the pressure on Mt. Everest to differ from the pressure in your classroom? Explain why.


Explain what it means when we say that Earth’s oceans are in hydrostatic equilibrium. Now suppose you are a scuba diver. Would you expect the pressure to increase or decrease as you dive below the surface to a depth of 200 feet? Why?


What mechanism transfers heat away from the surface of the Moon? If the Moon is losing energy in this way, why does it not simply become colder and colder?


Suppose you are standing a few feet away from a bonfire on a cold fall evening. Your face begins to feel hot. What is the mechanism that transfers heat from the fire to your face? (Hint: Is the air between you and the fire hotter or cooler than your face?)


Give some everyday examples of the transport of heat by convection and by radiation.


Suppose the proton-proton cycle in the Sun were to slow down suddenly and generate energy at only 95% of its current rate. Would an observer on Earth see an immediate decrease in the Sun’s brightness? Would she immediately see a decrease in the number of neutrinos emitted by the Sun?


Do you think that nuclear fusion takes place in the atmospheres of stars? Why or why not?


Why is fission not an important energy source in the Sun?


Why do you suppose so great a fraction of the Sun’s energy comes from its central regions? Within what fraction of the Sun’s radius does practically all of the Sun’s luminosity originate (see Figure 16.16)? Within what radius of the Sun has its original hydrogen been partially used up? Discuss what relationship the answers to these questions bear to one another.


Explain how mathematical computer models allow us to understand what is going on inside of the Sun.

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