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A Thermodynamic History of the Solar Constitution — I: The Journey to a Gaseous Sun

Author(s): Pierre-Marie Robitaille

Journal: Progress in Physics
ISSN 1555-5534

Volume: 3;
Start page: 3;
Date: 2011;
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Keywords: Sun | gaseous plasma | blackbody radiation | photosphere

History has the power to expose the origin and evolution of scientific ideas. How did humanity come to visualize the Sun as a gaseous plasma? Why is its interior thought to contain blackbody radiation? Who were the first people to postulate that the density of the solar body varied greatly with depth? When did mankind first conceive that the solar surface was merely an illusion? What were the foundations of such thoughts? In this regard, a detailed review of the Sun’s thermodynamic history provides both a necessaryexposition of the circumstance which accompanied the acceptance of the gaseous models and a sound basis for discussing modern solar theories. It also becomes an invitation to reconsider the phase of the photosphere. As such, in this work, the contributions of Pierre Simon Laplace, Alexander Wilson, William Herschel, Hermann von Helmholtz, Herbert Spencer, Richard Christopher Carrington, John Frederick William Herschel, Father Pietro Angelo Secchi, Herve August Etienne Albans Faye, Edward Frankland, ´ Joseph Norman Lockyer, Warren de la Rue, Balfour Stewart, Benjamin Loewy, and Gustav Robert Kirchho, relative to the evolution of modern stellar models, will be discussed. Six great pillars created a gaseous Sun: 1) Laplace’s Nebular Hypothesis, 2) Helmholtz’ contraction theory of energy production, 3) Andrew’s elucidation of critical temperatures, 4) Kirchho’s formulation of his law of thermal emission, 5) Plucker and Hittorf’s discovery of pressure broadening in gases, and 6) the evolution of the stellar equations of state. As these are reviewed, this work will venture to highlight not only the genesis of these revolutionary ideas, but also the forces which drove great men to advance a gaseous Sun.
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