Shining On

Sun Lantern

The Sun shines, the stars shine, the Moon shines and the planets shine. But they don’t all shine the same way. The first two, essentially being the same, create their own light, but the latter two, and just about everything else in the solar system, merely reflect the light of the Sun back to us. That includes asteroids, comets and man-made satellites. The smaller they are, or the darker they are, the harder they are to see.

Young children often get things mixed up as they are learning. They ask if we can land on the Sun, thinking it’s a planet, because the other ‘stars’ like Jupiter and Saturn are planets. Er, no, you’d be burnt to a crisp, because its a star, our star! But that’s OK, they’re young, and learning. I’m more concerned when I run into teenagers and adults that don’t know the difference.

The Moon only reflects about 12% of the sunlight it receives. It’s like looking at a large area of bitumen on a bright summer’s day, like a road of a car park. That’s pretty bright, though, isn’t it? It has most people reaching for their sunglasses.

Venus, shrouded in clouds, reflects 65% of what reaches it. And Jupiter is still bright because of its size, even though its much further away from us, about 750 million kilometres on average.

But lets come back to our local star, our Sun. It’s only 150 million kilometres away. Despite a diffusing atmosphere above our head it’s still too bright to look at directly and we can still feel it’s heat directly. It might a small star in the galactic scheme of things, but you still don’t want to mess with it.

Jupiter lantern

Jupiter, though bright in our sky, still only reflects the light from the Sun back to us.


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