The Sun and Chandra solar neon lines
Credit: Spectrum: NASA/CXC/J.Drake & P.Testa; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Neon Lights are Bright

Sometimes when you think you know a familiar object, you take another look and everything changes. The Sun is a good example. Astrophysicists first developed models of the hidden interiors of stars using the Sun as a benchmark. Despite some troubles (like the solar neutrino problem) the theory of the solar interior successfully explained observable external features like the temperature of the solar surface and the amount of convective bubbling just below the surface. But recently all this was thrown into confusion because a careful study of the matter abundances in the sun suggested that important light elements like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and neon, which help moderate the transport of energy from the nuclear generator in the core of the sun, were overestimated by earlier analyses. The lower abundances meant that the predictions of solar models no longer agreed with the observable characteristics of the Sun, throwing astrophysics into a quandry. However, new observations by the Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped resolve this puzzle. Chandra spectra were used to measure the abundances of neon in nearby stars, and have uniformly shown relatively high abundances of neon. If the abundance of neon in the sun is actually as high as it is for these nearby stars (all of whom presumably formed with similar abundances) this would help bring the sun back in line with theoretical models.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:26:05 EDT