# 10 how hot is the convection zone of the sun Ideas

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CTION ZONE

THE CONVECTION ZONE

Imagine
that you are the captain of a new vessel specially built to
explore the interior of the Sun. We call
interior the part of the Sun which is below its surface
and therefore is not directly visible to us. There you are, at the
commands of your vessel, on the visible surface of the Sun, which is
also called the photosphere. You
switch the motors on,
point the nose of your vessel toward the center of the Sun and begin
your trip. Immediately, you feel that the whole vessel is being shacked
continuously. You are in the convection zone. The
vibrations you feel are due to the fact that the fluid (we call it
plasma) which is around your vessel is in a very
turbulent state. It feels as if your vessel
a gigantic pot of boiling water. The temperature at the surface was
about 5,700° C but it is increasing as you go deeper and you
realize that your vessel will soon begin to melt. Your on board
computers calculate that by the time you will reach the bottom of the
convection zone, at a depth of about 200,000 km, the temperature will
be 2,000,000° C. Way too much for the vessel. You decide that this
is definitely too dangerous for your crew and order to go back
to the surface.

It would be nice to be able to see the Sun in situ. Unfortunately,
this is impossible. Instead, scientists are using
telescopes, satellites and
computers to study the interior of the Sun. In the
following we explain what we have discovered in this way about the
convection zone.

## 1. Where is the Convection Zone Located?

The interior of the Sun can be divided into three regions, depending
on the kind of transport of energy which is in action: the
and the convection zone:

• The core is the central
region of the Sun. All the solar energy is generated in the
core by nuclear fusion.

• Around the core there is the radiative
zone. In this region, energy is transported by
of a nuclear central, around a nuclear explosion,…). With
respect to the surface of the Sun, the radiative zone extends
from a depth of 515,000 km to 200,000 km.

• Just above the radiative zone there is a thin layer called
the interface layer or
overshoot zone which
makes the transition between the radiative and convection
zones.

• The convection zone is the outer-most layer of the
interior. It extends from a depth of 200,000 km up to the
visible surface of the Sun. Energy is transported by
convection in this region. The surface
of the convection zone is where light
(photons) is created. This top layer is called the
photosphere.

## 2. What do we see from it

 Image Credit: High Altitude Observatory

We can only see the surface of the convection zone
(why?).If we point
our telescopes towards the Sun, what we see is a white ball with some
picture click

here. We call the dark patches
sunspots. The amount of
sunspots, their shape and their position change all the time. We will
see below that the sunspots appear when bundles of magnetic field
which where inside the convection zone break through the
surface. To see more details of the surface we can zoom with the
telescope.

The result looks like this. This picture has been taken by
T. Berger
using the
Swedish
solar telescope located on the top of an island called
La Palma (one of the
Canary Islands off of
northwestern Africa).

In this picture, white regions are hot and dark regions are cold.

Several interesting features are visible:

The whole
surface is covered with cells. They look very much like the cells you
can see at the surface of a pot of boiling water. We call them
convection cells because they are due to
convection, the
physical mechanisms responsible for the boiling water. The bright
regions correspond to hot rising material, whereas the dark lanes are
the location where the colder material falls down into the Sun. Click
on the image on the right to see an animation of these
convection cells as seen with the
Dutch Open
Telescope located on the Spanish island of
La Palma.

to the convection cells there are also these dark patches which are
visible on the surface. The big ones like in the picture above are
called sunspots and their diameter can be as big as the
diameter of the earth. The small ones, like in the side picture, are called
pores. Both indicate locations where concentrated
magnetic fields (imagine bundles of rubber bands) are
intersecting the surface of the Sun (How do we
know that there is a lot of magnetic field in the
sunspots?). Sunspots and pores are very dynamical features. Some
times they are no sunspots on the surface, some times there are a lot
of them. They are the manifestation of processes which take place in
the interior where we cannot look directly.

Understanding what is going on in the convection zone by looking only
at the surface is a very complicated task. Scientists have found two
ways of doing this:

• Listening to the
Sun.
Apart from studying the light that comes from the Sun,
we can study the sounds produced by the Sun. Doing this we can
obtain some information about the internal structures of the
Sun. This is how we know, for example, that the bottom of the
convection zone is located at a depth of about 200,000 km. This
technique of listening to the Sun and interpreting its sounds is
called helioseismology.

• Simulate the Sun with a computer

## 3. What is the convection zone?

It is made out of plasma.
The convective zone, like the rest of the Sun, is made up entirely of
plasma. A plasma is a ‘gas’ that conducts
electrical currents, just like a wire does. The ‘gas’ contained in
neon light bulbs is a plasma for example. The plasma in the
convective zone is mainly made up of hydrogen (70% by mass), helium
(27.7% by mass) plus small quantities of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.

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It is convecting (boiling).
As we have seen above, the bottom of the
convection zone is heated by the radiations coming out of the
radiative zone, a bit like a room is heated by a
radiator. The temperature at the bottom of the convection zone is
200,000° C. At the same time the top of the convection zone
(surface of the Sun) is being cooled by the creation of
light. The temperature at the surface is only about
5700° C. Thus, there exist a large
temperature difference between the base and the surface of the
convection zone.

This difference in the temperature results in a
physical phenomenon called convection, which you are familiar with
since you surely have seen a pot of boiling water. Initially, when you
put a pot of water on the cooker, both the water at the top and at the
bottom of the pot are at the same temperature, namely the temperature
in your kitchen. Then you turn on the cooker and the bottom of the pot
becomes hotter and hotter until, after a while, you see bubbles
appearing at the surface. These bubbles are very similar to the
cells observed at the surface of the Sun.

When a blob of water touches the bottom of the pot, it is heated very
rapidly and becomes much hotter than the water at the top. Hot
water is lighter than cold water
(why is that?). So, our blob of water is lighter
than the cooler water at the top. Remember that light ‘stuff’ always
floats on top of heavy ‘stuff’ (as for example the marshmallows in hot
chocolate). Thus, the blob of water rises toward the surface. At the
surface of the pot, the contrary happens: the water in contact with
the surface is cooled instead of being heated and therefore becomes
heavier and sinks. The result is that individual blobs of liquid carry
heat as they rise and then give up some of it before falling and
picking some more. This is how convection transports energy
from the top of the radiative zone (the heater) up to the surface of
the Sun where light is formed (the cooler).

It is turbulent. The plasma in the
convection zone is very much NOT viscous (what is more viscous: water,
oil or air?). An immediate
consequence of this is that the motions of the
plasma in the convection zone (like the motions of water in the
pot) become very complicated. This is referred to as
turbulence. Turbulence is present everywhere in our life and is a

The image below gives an idea of how complicated the motions in a
turbulent flow can be. The picture has been generated by N. Brummell with a computer
and represents the temperature (red is hot and black is cold) in a
small slice of the convection zone. The complicated patterns give you
an idea of how turbulent the flow is.

This image illustrates how computers can be used to study the
convection zone of the Sun. More about that below.

It is rotating.
A big difference between the boiling pot of water and the convection zone
is that the Sun is rotating. This affects the motions of the
blobs of plasma. Instead of rising and sinking vertically, they go up
and down in a swirling way. This effect of the
rotation on the motions is called the Coriolis force and is also
present on the earth: look at the motion of the water when you empty
the tub after taking a bath. Does it swirl always in the same
direction?

Another important aspect of the
solar rotation is that, unlike the Earth, the Sun does not
rotate like a solid body. Observations of its surface have revealed
that the equatorial regions rotate faster than the poles. If you were
standing on the solar
equator it would take you 26 days to go round the Sun, while if you
where standing close to one of the solar poles it would take you about
32 days. This is called differential rotation.

A lot of what we know today about the way the Sun rotates and other
global motions in its interior have been discovered thanks to the helioseismology.

It generates magnetic fields. The
interaction of the convective turbulent motions of the gas in the
convection zone and the differential rotation leads to the generation
of electric currents and solar magnetic
fields. This process is called
the solar dynamo mechanism. On the earth
we use dynamos to produce electricity and we call them electricity
generators. You find them in a car, on a bike and also in a power
station. The basic principle is always the same: out of a rotational
motion electricity and magnetic field are created.

The magnetic field generated in the
convection zone has important properties:

It tends to agglomerate into bundles of magnetic field or magnetic
flux tubes

It is buoyant. This means that it is lighter
than its surroundings. The consequence is that once it has been
created it tends to rise toward the surface.

It is
elastic like a rubber band. Thus, if you try to push sideway on
it (red arrows), its internal tension pushes back in the
opposite direction (blue arrow).

Magnetic field
lines have no ends: the magnetic field always close on itself.

If a magnetic field
line is deformed so much that in some place it makes an X, it can
reconnect. That is how magnetic field lines can split or merge.

Because the flows in the convection zone are turbulent, the magnetic field generated by the
dynamo action in the Sun has a very complicated structure. This is an
example of it, again taken from a numerical simulation (click on the
image to see an animation of it):

It transports magnetic fields.
Once it has been created, the magnetic field is being moved and
deformed by the convective flows. Eventually, a substantial amount of
it is stored near the bottom of the convection zone in what is called
the overshooting region. In this
storage place, the
magnetic field is aligned with the toroidal direction, a bit like a
thin donuts.

How the magnetic field ends up stored in this manner is still a very
mysterious problem. What we know is that the
differential rotation plays an
important role in this. Imagine
you have a magnetic field line which is like a meridian (it is
oriented north to South). Because the equator of the Sun rotates
faster than the poles, it winds the field line around the Sun like it
is illustrated in this picture:

In this manner two thin donuts of magnetic fields are created around
the Sun: one slightly above the equator and another one slightly below
the equator.
Question: apart from the effect of the differential rotation, is there
any other reason to believe that the magnetic field is stored more or
less in this form? Answer = another question: do the active regions (new
group of sunspots) appear in some special locations on the solar surface?

If a substantial part of the magnetic field generated by the dynamo tends to be stored near the bottom of the
convection zone, then we have to explain how the magnetic field escape
from this storage place and rise up to the surface. The explanation
found by the scientists is summarized in this
computer generated picture:

 Image Credit: Peter Calligari, Fernando Moreno-Insertis and Manfred Schuessler

The yellow hemisphere represents the bottom of the convection
zone and the transparent one represents its surface. The green line is
a bundle of magnetic field lines which has risen from the bottom of
the convection zone (where it was stored) up to the surface. The little
superimposed picture with the two sunspots shows how the bundle of
magnetic field lines appears to us when it emerges at the
surface. This picture was generated with computers in an attempt to
understand the mechanisms that govern the emergence of new magnetic
regions on the surface of the Sun. It illustrates well how computers
can be useful to study the interior of the Sun.

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## 1. The challenge

We cannot look inside
the convection zone. As we have explained
above, we only see the surface of the
Sun. The surface is not quiet at all. If you look at it for a while
you discover motions everywhere: granulation, new sunspots
appearing, oscillations, … This surface activity is
difficult to understand because most of it is the manifestation of
something which happens inside but that we cannot see. Thus,
the challenge is to understand what happens inside the convection
zone by looking only at the surface
.

## 2. Virtual worlds

One way of going around this problem is to use computers. Who says
computers, says virtual worlds. Indeed, a nice thing about the
computers is that they are very good at representing virtual
worlds. Thus, if we were able to construct a virtual Sun in the
computer, then we could study this computerized Sun. The advantage is
that because this Sun would be in the computer we would be able to see
what is going on anywhere we want in its interior. Neat, isn’t
it?

This plan seems to be very straightforward but there is a little
problem. How do we make sure that the Sun in the computer is
reasonably similar to the real one? In effect, if the virtual Sun has
nothing to do with the reality, then studying this computer generated
Sun does not tell us a lot about the real one. Speaking in terms of
computer games, we want our virtual world to be like the one you find
in a flight simulator, not like the one you find in a fantasy game: in
a flight simulator if you make a bad maneuver your virtual plane may
fall and crash; in a fantasy game, the hero may be able to do impossible
things, like jumping higher than a 20 stores building. The main
difference between the two games is that the flight simulator is based
on the laws of physics
, whereas the fantasy game is based on
the imagination of its authors.
So, we have to make sure that our virtual Sun is based only on the
laws of physics and that it has nothing to do with fantasy. How do we
do that?

## 3. Logical procedure

First it is
important to realize that to describe a given
process, some physical ingredients are more important than others. For
example, if you are writing a football computer game, you need to
include correctly the effect of gravity on the ball so
that its trajectory looks realistic. If you want to be more refined,
you can also include the effect of the resistance of the air. The
difference, though, with the motions calculated using only gravity is
not so important. In this sense, gravity is more fundamental than the
resistance of the air: if you forget about the effect of the air, your
motions are approximately correct, if you forget about gravity, they
are very different from reality.

When we construct our virtual Sun in the computer we do not want to
include all the physical ingredients at once. First of all, because no
computers is big enough and fast enough to tackle all the complication
of the Sun at once. Secondly, because we want to discover which are
the important physical processes which govern the dynamics in the
interior of the convection zone, and which ingredients are secondary.

Imagine that we have observed the surface of the Sun and that we have
noticed something intriguing that we would like to understand. To do
this we proceed by trial and error in an organized way:

1. Taking into account our knowledge of the universal
laws of
physics, we make a prediction about which physical mechanism
could cause what we see at the surface of the Sun.

2. Then, we use
the computer to create a virtual Sun (or part of the Sun — like
the convection zone) which obeys this mechanism that we just
predicted.

3. Once we have the new virtual Sun, we compare its surface with
what is observed on the surface of the real Sun.

4. Then there are two possibilities:
• The two surfaces are similar. This indicates that the physical
ingredients that we are using may not be to far from
reality. Thus, we might have discovered something new about the
Sun.
• The surfaces are different. This indicates that either the mechanism
we thought about has nothing to do with the Sun, or the mechanism
is correct but something else happens: we did not put the right
amount of this effect in our model; maybe there are some other
more important physical ingredients in play that we did not
think about; … we need to begin again in 1.

We may have to go through the logical circle a lot of times in order
to try a new idea or adjust the parameters of a mechanism that we
think could be a good explanation of something which really happens in
the convection zone. But this is not a problem because computers are
perfect for this kind of repetitive job:

• they go fast so that in
general we can try a lot of different ideas;
• they understand the
same language in which the laws of physics are expressed —
mathematics;
• the Sun that we build inside the computers is virtual and
therefore can be modified easily.

## 4. One example: granulation

One problem for the study of which computers have been used
extensively is the solar granulation. When we look at the
surface with a telescope we see something like in the picture A in the
image below.

 Image Credit: Nic Brummell

Zooming in, the surface of the Sun appears like in the picture C. This
looks very much like the surface of a convecting liquid and. So, it
suggests that convection could be the mechanism responsible for the
motions in the this part of the Sun. In order to test this idea we can
use the computer in the following manner.

First we built in the computer a convecting layer. We make a box in
which we put a liquid which has properties similar to those of the
solar plasma. We heat the box from below (we tell the computer that
the bottom has a very high temperature) and we cool it at the top (we
tell the computer that the surface temperature is much smaller than
the bottom one). Then, we give to the computer the laws of physics that
it will use. We tell the computer: given a blob of liquid, this how
you calculate its speed, this is how you calculate its temperature,
… etc.

Once this is done, we tell the computer: go ahead and begin calculating
how the liquid in the box is evolving. If we have made no error, after
a little while the liquid in the virtual box begins to boil, or
to convect.

The next step is to compare the surface of our virtual box with the
image of the surface granulation on the Sun. What we see in our
computer is this (click on the image to see an animation of the simulation).

 Image Credit: T. Emonet & F. Cattaneo

They look kind of similar. This is nice because it indicates that
we are on the right tracks. Now we can begin to ask some details about
convection and we can answer them by looking at our numerical
simulation
. For example: what does determine the horizontal size
of the cells? How does the temperature look inside?, ….

• Light
• Sound waves and helioseismology
• Plasma
• Turbulence
• Magnetic field
• Dynamo
• Maunder minimum

## WHO STUDIES THE CONVECTION ZONE TODAY

• Fausto Cattaneo
• Nic Brummell
• Bob Rosner
• Andrea Malagoli
• David Hughes
• Manfred Schuessler
• Jean-Claude Thelen
• Thierry Emonet

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## Frequently Asked Questions About how hot is the convection zone of the sun

If you have questions that need to be answered about the topic how hot is the convection zone of the sun, then this section may help you solve it.

to 5800K

### How hot is the Sun’s region of transition?

14,000–900,000 degrees Fahrenheit

the central

### The Sun is the only source of heat.

The answer is lightning, which, according to NASA, is four times hotter than the surface of the sun. The air around a lightning strike can reach peak temperatures of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while magma can reach temperatures of about 2,100 degrees.

### How chilly is it there?

Believe it or not, astronomers actually know quite well what the average temperature of space away from the Earth is: an extreme -270.42 degrees (2.73 degrees above absolute zero).

### What is the universe’s hottest object?

The temperature at the core of a supernova during an explosion soars up to 6000X that of the sun’s core, making it the hottest object in the universe.

### What is the thing that is hottest on Earth?

Depending on who you ask, somewhere else) may have the planet’s highest air temperature, but in 2005, the Lut Desert in Iran recorded the planet’s highest temperature ever—159 degrees Fahrenheit.

### If the Earth were nearer the Sun, would it be hotter?

No, despite its ability to affect Earth’s climate, the Sun is not to blame for the recent warming trend.

### Is lava hotter than the Sun?

Even though lava can reach temperatures of up to 2,200° F, the sun’s surface temperature (also known as the photosphere) is a whopping 10,000° F, which is about five times hotter than the lava that can reach those temperatures on Earth.

### The Sun is the coolest there.

Surprisingly, the photosphere is much cooler than both the Sun’s atmosphere above it, which has regions with temperatures up to a few million degrees, and the Sun’s core, which has a temperature well above 10 million degrees.

### Where is the hottest spot on Earth?

In July 1913, weathermen in Furnace Creek, California (also known as Death Valley), witnessed the thermometer reach 56.7°C (134°F), and they proclaimed it to be the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth.

### Where is there no sun?

Norway, which is located in the Arctic Circle, is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun because from May to late July, the sun does not set, lasting for roughly 76 days.

### What climate can a human survive in the hottest?

According to conventional wisdom, humans can only endure temperatures up to 108.14 degrees Fahrenheit (42.3 degrees Celsius), which can denature proteins and permanently harm the brain.

### What is the earth’s coldest object?

The coldest materials on earth aren’t found in Antarctica or at the summit of Mount Everest; rather, they are found in physics labs, where gases are held at temperatures that are only a few thousandths of a degree above absolute zero.

### Does Death Valley have a population?

Here’s what it’s like to live in Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth, where more than 300 people do so year-round.

### How chilly is the cosmos?

Space is extremely cold; its average temperature is 2.7 kelvins (opens in new tab), or minus 454.81 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 270.45 degrees Celsius, which is just slightly above absolute zero, the temperature at which molecular motion ceases.

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