The Genesis of Energy on the Sun
Constant complex atomic reactions (nuclear fusion reactions, for extra credit ) are taking place on our sun called Proton-Proton chain reactions. During these reactions, Hydrogen (H) atoms are combined together to create isotopes of Helium (He). See the image below (note: MeV denotes megaelectron volts, a measure of electric energy). The result generates electricity that radiates all the way to Earth. The resulting He isotopes undergo more atomic reactions that involve Beryllium and Lithium, further resulting in a release of energy. The sun's energy is radiated to Earth in the form of electro-magnetism.
In one form or another, the energy that you use comes from the sun's electro-magnetic ray. The food that you eat transforms the sun's energy during photosynthesis and uses it to create mass (e.g. glucose sugar in plants) storing energy that your body uses when you consume and digest your food. The stored energy is also passed to your body when you consume fish and animals that eat plants.
So What Does this Have to do with Technology?
The energy that you use to power devices like your phone, TV, and computer also originates in the sun. Depending upon where you live in the world, your main source of electrical power varies. The main sources of fuel that we use in KY are coal power and natural gas (to power our homes and charge battery powered devices) and petroleum-based gasoline (to power our transportation).
Coal and oil are fossilized versions of plant and animal matter that have undergone extreme heat and pressure for millions of years. Energy in the form of heat is generated when we burn those substances, and we use that to generate electrical energy (for more on this, stay tuned for the post on Copper). So when you use your computer to update your status or play a video game, the energy that is needed to power the device originates in the Hydrogen and Helium reactions on the sun.
Alternative Ways to Harness the Sun's Energy
Since there is a limited amount of fossil fuels left on Earth, scientists have been designing alternative ways to harvest energy from the sun's rays.
The most direct way is through solar-powered energy which can be divided into two categories. First, passive solar energy harnesses just the heat given off from the sun's rays and concentrates that energy to heat water or a greenhouse, etc. Second, scientists use photovoltaic panels to actively transform the energy in the sun's rays into electricity that can be used to power batteries.
Biofuels, like bio diesel are made from low-cost, mass produced sugary plant substances like sugar cane, corn and soy. The sun's energy is stored in the plant's sugars and is distilled into a purified ethanol and used to power machines and automobiles.
Onyx Photovoltaic Estimation is a cool, free app that uses your phone's screen to estimate the amount of power that a photovoltaic panel would generate at any location.
There is a diverse world of alternative energy that is constantly changing due to technological improvements. Here's a cool app to keep you up to date from Renewable Energy World:
(Montage of alternative sources of energy: wind, hydropower, and photovoltaic cells)
Here's an extra credit question for your Teen Summer Reading activity point: how are wind-powered and geothermal electricity also forms of the Sun's energy?