DARK SKIES: Our Sun's magnetic energy
LYING 150 million kilometres from Earth is the Sun, our nearest star in space, as that is what a star is - pouring out light and heat we call energy.
Our star converts more than 500 tonnes of hydrogen every second into helium at the Sun's core, at 40 million degrees Celsius.
If this rate was to slow down or the Sun developed 0.1 per cent iron at its core, the Sun would die within milliseconds as iron absorbs energy and within 12 months this 'blue marble' planet we call Earth, would be a frozen wasteland.
When the Sun and the solar system formed billions of years ago out of a giant molecular cloud of hydrogen helium, dust and other matter called a nebula, our star went through some pretty hard times, as most stars do during formation.
While some stars can take up to a million Earth years to mature into a self-governing ball of light and heat, our Sun is believed by many Solar astronomers to be a third-generation star that was formed tens of billions of years ago and over time, has shrunk down and stabilised into what we have now; a small matured yellow type, middle-age star that will live for another 4.5 billion years, before it ends its life as a Red Giant.
Using our Sun as a model, solar physicists now compare its spectra to other similar middle-age stars in our galaxy, to see what changes are going on, in particular on Alpha Centauri, which is about the same size and chemical make-up as our tiny star.
Measuring 1.4 million kilometres in diameter, our Sun is a very active hot ball of gas.
Its 6000C surface is constantly changing every micro-second, as billions of solar cells as big as Queensland rise to the surface and submerge every five minutes. The magnetic field lines near sunspots often tangle, cross, and re-organise.
This can cause a sudden explosion of energy called a solar flare, which releases a lot of radiation into space.
If a solar flare is very intense, the radiation it releases can interfere with our radio communications here on Earth, and auroras occur around Earth's north and south poles. Solar flares are sometimes accompanied by a coronal mass ejection, which are huge bubbles of radiation and particles from the Sun.
They explode into space at very high speed when the Sun's magnetic field lines suddenly re-organise.
In 1989, the Canadian state of Quebec lost power for 10 hours due to a huge solar flare tripping out a hydro electric power station and in 1859, a solar flare was so huge it lit up most of the world. If this happened today, solar scientists say 95 per cent of the world's electronic systems would be disabled.
Solar flares can cripple satellites and along with deadly gamma rays, can destroy an astronaut's white cells, resulting in 100 per cent leukaemia.