How big was the Sun when it first "fired up"? (Intermediate)

If the sun consumes "x" amount of mass per second during nuclear fusion, and it is believed to be "y" years old, how big (diameter) was it believed to be when it was first "fired up"?

I cannot give you a quantitative estimate of the sun's size, but it was smaller than it is today. A star is born when nuclear reactions begin in the core of the collapsing protostar. Once the star starts nuclear fusion, its size remains nearly constant throughout its life in the main sequence. As you may know, the star is supported by hydrostatic equilibrium, and the temperture of the core is almost constant through the main sequence.

But, there are slight variations in the size and luminosity of the star during the main sequence. As the star ages, the temperature of the core gets slightly hotter (the core shrinks slightly), causing the nuclear reactions to proceed at a faster rate, causing the energy output to go up. Consequently, to maintain hydrostatic equilibrium, the star's envelope expands a little bit and the luminosity goes up slightly. Further, the temperature of the surface of the star goes down slightly (even though the core is hotter).

Thus, even though one thinks that the sun must have been bigger in the past as it had more mass, that is not the case, and it is actually bigger now than it was in the past.

This page was last updated June 28, 2015.

About the Author

Jagadheep D. Pandian

Jagadheep D. Pandian

Jagadheep built a new receiver for the Arecibo radio telescope that works between 6 and 8 GHz. He studies 6.7 GHz methanol masers in our Galaxy. These masers occur at sites where massive stars are being born. He got his Ph.D from Cornell in January 2007 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Insitute for Radio Astronomy in Germany. After that, he worked at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii as the Submillimeter Postdoctoral Fellow. Jagadheep is currently at the Indian Institute of Space Scence and Technology.

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