AskDefine | Define photosphere

Dictionary Definition

photosphere n : the intensely luminous surface of a star (especially the sun)

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. the visible surface layer of a star, and especially that of the sun

Extensive Definition

The photosphere of an astronomical object is the region from which externally received light comes. It extends into a star's surface until the gas becomes opaque, equivalent to an optical depth of 2 or 3. In other words, the photosphere is the region where an object stops being transparent to ordinary light.*

Effective temperature

The effective temperature of the photosphere corresponds to the position where the optical depth becomes 2/3 for a photon of wavelength equal to 500 nanometers, since the total amount of energy emitted by the star is equal to the energy emitted by a gas at that radius. Because stars, excepting neutron stars, have no solid surface, the photosphere is typically used to describe the Sun or another star's visual surface. The term itself is derived from Ancient Greek roots, φως¨- φωτος/photos meaning "light" and σφαιρος/sphairos meaning "ball," in reference to the fact that it is a ball-shaped surface perceived to emit light

The sun

The Sun's photosphere has a temperature between 4500 and 6000 kelvins (5800 kelvin average) and a density of about 2 kg m-3 ; other stars may have hotter or cooler photospheres. The Sun's photosphere is composed of convection cells called granules—cells of gas each approximately 1000 kilometers in diameter with hot rising gas in the center and cooler gas falling in the narrow spaces between them. Each granule has a lifespan of only about eight minutes, resulting in a continually shifting "boiling" pattern. Grouping the typical granules are super granules up to 30,000 kilometers in diameter with lifespans of up to 24 hours. These details are too fine to see on other stars.

Other layers

The Sun's visible atmosphere has other layers above the photosphere: the 10,000 kilometre-deep chromosphere (typically observed by filtered light, for example H-alpha) lies just between the photosphere and the much hotter but more tenuous corona. Other "surface features" on the photosphere are solar flares and sunspots.
The image of the surface shown in the illustration to the right is actually an ultraviolet image of helium gas at 30.4 nm (from the European Space Agency/NASA SOHO spacecraft), and comes from the chromosphere, which is just above the photosphere, so the "photosphere" label attached to this image is actually incorrect.


photosphere in Asturian: Fotosfera
photosphere in Bulgarian: Фотосфера
photosphere in Catalan: Fotosfera
photosphere in Czech: Fotosféra
photosphere in German: Photosphäre
photosphere in Spanish: Fotosfera
photosphere in French: Photosphère
photosphere in Korean: 광구
photosphere in Indonesian: Fotosfer
photosphere in Italian: Fotosfera
photosphere in Hebrew: פוטוספירה
photosphere in Latvian: Fotosfēra
photosphere in Lithuanian: Fotosfera
photosphere in Dutch: Fotosfeer
photosphere in Japanese: 光球
photosphere in Norwegian: Fotosfære
photosphere in Polish: Fotosfera
photosphere in Portuguese: Fotosfera
photosphere in Russian: Фотосфера
photosphere in Slovak: Fotosféra
photosphere in Slovenian: Fotosfera
photosphere in Finnish: Fotosfääri
photosphere in Swedish: Fotosfär
photosphere in Turkish: Işıkyuvarı
photosphere in Ukrainian: Фотосфера
photosphere in Chinese: 光球
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