The Sun:Structure Oscillations, Magnetic Cycle, Surface Variations

Solar Physics

, Volume 74, Issue 1, pp 21-34

First online:

Solar interior structure and luminosity variations

  • D. O. GoughAffiliated withInstitute of Astronomy, and Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge

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The assumptions of standard solar evolution theory are mentioned briefly, and the principle conclusions drawn from them are described. The result is a rationalization of the present luminosity and radius of the Sun. Because there is some uncertainty about the interior composition of the Sun, a range of models is apparently acceptable.

To decide which model is the most accurate, other more sensitive comparisons with observations must be made. Recent measurements of frequencies of dynamical oscillations are particularly valuable in this respect. The most accurate observations are of the five-minute oscillations, which suggest that the solar composition is not atypical of other stars of the same age as the Sun.

The theory predicts that the solar luminosity has risen steadily from about 70% of its current value during the last 4.7 x 109yr. Superposed on this there might have been variations on shorter timescales. Variations lasting about 107yr and occurring at intervals of 108yr have been suggested as being the cause of terrestrial ice ages. Moreover, there may be other variations, associated with instabilities arising from the coupling between the convection zone and the radiative interior, that occur on a timescale of 105yr and which also have climatic consequences. These issues are quite uncertain.

We do know that the Sun varies magnetically with a period of about 22 yr, and that this oscillation is modulated irregularly on a timescale of centuries. This appears to be a phenomenon associated with the convection zone and its immediate neighbourhood, though control from a more deeply-seated mechanism is not out of the question. There is a small luminosity variation associated with this cycle, and the way by which this might come about is discussed in terms of certain theories of the solar dynamo.

Finally, there must be small surface flux variations associated with the dynamical oscillations mentioned above. Though the total luminosity variations are extremely small, the flux in any specific direction, and in particular that of the earth, may be measurable.