February 5, 2020

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What would the Sun sound like?

The Sun's surface is a roiling soup of superheated plasma. If we could hear its motion as sound energy, the roar would be audible on Earth 92 million miles away.

The Sun's surface is a roiling soup of superheated plasma. If we could hear its motion as sound energy, the roar would be audible on Earth 92 million miles away.

An intriguing thought experiment explores the awesome power of our star.
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An intriguing thought experiment explores the awesome power of our star.

It’s dawn. The Sun crests the horizon, bringing with it the first flush of light and the arrival of a new day.
And, as always, the dull roar, once muted, returns in full force. A bawling cacophony permeates the air, insidious as daylight. Gone is the trill of birdsong, the gentle rush of wind. Indeed, it is a struggle even to talk.
So begins another day in a curious thought experiment: What if we could hear the Sun?

Our noisy Sun

In our world, the laws of physics preclude sound from moving through the vacuum of space. But let’s assume for a moment that sound can travel through space like it does through the atmosphere here on Earth.
In this world, the Sun would no longer be a silent ball of fire hanging in the sky. Instead, it would be a perpetual white noise machine, blaring with the intensity of a rock concert at all hours of the day.
“The Sun is extraordinarily loud,” says heliophysicist Craig DeForest of the Southwest Research Institute’s Department of Space Studies. He responded to a reddit thread in 2015 asking what it would be like if we could hear the Sun. Based on some quick calculations (and a selective ignorance of physics) the answer is clear, he says. The Sun would be absolutely deafening.