Fire Of Life

tte Sun is our powerhouse. It energizes our planet, warming the ground and lighting our days. It is solar heat that powers the winds and cycles water from sea to rain, the source of our weather and arbiter of our climate. And the Sun is the source of the energy that sustains life.

Without its heat and light, all life would quickly vanish from the surface of our planet. And the Sun provides - directly or indirectly - most of our energy. Green plants absorb sunlight where it strikes chlorophyll, giving them the energy to break water molecules apart and energize photosynthesis; plants thereby use the Sun's energy to live and grow, giving off oxygen as a byproduct (Fig. 1.3). Eating these plants nourishes animals. And long-dead, compressed plants provide the petroleum, coal or natural gas that energizes the lights in your house or powers the car you drive.

tte Earth glides through space at just the right distance from the Sun for life to thrive on our planet's surface, while other planets freeze or fry. We sit in the comfort

FIG. 1.3 Sunflowers The Sun sustains all living creatures and plants on Earth. Green plants absorb sunlight, giving them the energy to break water molecules apart and energize photosynthesis. Plants thereby use the Sun's energy to live and grow, giving off oxygen as a byproduct. (Courtesy of Charles E. Rodgers.)

FIG. 1.3 Sunflowers The Sun sustains all living creatures and plants on Earth. Green plants absorb sunlight, giving them the energy to break water molecules apart and energize photosynthesis. Plants thereby use the Sun's energy to live and grow, giving off oxygen as a byproduct. (Courtesy of Charles E. Rodgers.)

zone. Any closer and the oceans would boil away. Further out the Earth would be a frozen wasteland.

We receive just enough energy from the Sun to keep most of our water liquid, which is a requirement for life, as we know it. In comparison, the surface of Venus, just slightly closer to the Sun, is hot enough to melt lead; further away from the Sun, the planet Mars is now frozen into a global ice age. It cannot now rain on Mars, and any liquid water released on its surface will either evaporate or freeze into ice. Turn off the Sun's powerhouse, and in just a few months we could all be under ice.

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