An Awe Full Hot Day

On a hot day, one of the things I sometimes think about is how much energy the Sun is putting out. I can’t conceive of this much light and heat from man-made sources.

The Sun has been doing this for over 4 billion years, and will continue doing so for another 4 billion years.

And if this wasn’t enough, consider how far away the Earth is from the Sun. I know, you can’t. We don’t have a frame of reference. So let’s create one.

Take a basketball if you have one. If not, take a plastic gallon milk container. Place it on the ground. Now take a peppercorn. Walk 31 yards away – that’s 31 decent-sized steps. Place the peppercorn on the ground.

That’s roughly the relative size and distance of the Earth from the Sun. Stand back and marvel at how much energy the Sun must be putting out to heat the Earth at that sort of distance.

Of course, the Sun is not blasting all the energy directly at the Earth. It’s putting out energy in all directions. So the heat and light the Earth receives is also going to all points in a sphere the size of the Earth-Sun distance.

As you can see, the peppercorn is almost invisible at 31 yards. It would take over 2 billion peppercorns to cover a sphere 31 yards from your basketball or milk container. In other words, the Sun is putting out enough heat and light to heat over 2 billion Earths at once.

This is so mind-boggling that I can’t begin to relate to it.

And the mind-bogglingness is compounded by the fact that there are about 300,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy and about 100,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe.

How can one even begin to get a grasp on that? I can’t think of anything that creates a greater sense of awe in me.

Here’s a fantastic demonstration of the relative size and distance of our Solar System and its planets. Click on the picture and scroll left and right. Prepare to feel awe. If you want to see the full page version, click here.


The distance from the sun to the earth is about 93,000,000 miles. The surface area of the sphere around the Sun at the distance of the Earth is: 4 * pi * (distance from Earth to Sun)2. Computing this gives 4 * 3.14 * 93,000,000 * 93,000,000 square miles = approximately 108,631,440,000,000,000 square miles.

The surface area of the disk that would be the Earth if you were looking at it from the sun is: pi * (radius of Earth)2 which is about 3.14 * 4,000 * 4,000, or 50,240,000 square miles.

How many Earth sizes fit into the surface of this sphere around the Sun? The answer is 108,631,440,000,000,000 / 50,240,000 = 2,152,250,000. In other words, the Sun is giving out enough light and energy to heat and illuminate over 2 billion Earths.

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2 Responses to An Awe Full Hot Day

  1. Bruce T says:

    Is this what keeps the mind of a retiree up at night?


    • Alec Sharp says:


      I do sometimes think about the scale and scope of things because it’s so fascinating. I’d thought of writing something like this several times, and was finally inspired to actually do it when I came across the page about “If the Moon were only 1 pixel”.


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