This story is interesting both in regards to the shape of the sun and how it was believed to change in the solar cycle and in regards to how space-based exploration changed our view of the question. The reports from NASA’s space-based solar observatory reports that the sun is rounder than previously thought and the shape does not vary with solar cycles.
While primitive man writing primitive science books thought the sun was a burning ember that could easily be made to stand still, later a burning lump of coal, we now know it is just a big gas bag. Had the old-timers made even modestly accurate observations and measured the sun’s size, looked at how quickly a lump of carbon-fuel would burn, and then done some math, they might have estimated the age of the universe (or at least the sun since all those lights in the sky were just tears in the firmament) at way less than even 6000 years. Of course somehow those ancient scientists and part-time goat-herders in the middle east didn’t get the memo from on high about nuclear fusion. But nonetheless what they claimed thousands of years ago is still truth today since we still see the sun revolving around the earth every day just as they described.
Science on the other hand learned something new about the sun. For at least 60 years we’ve known the sun has an 11 year cycle of sunspots and flares. Most measurements of any parameter of the sun vary with that cycle. It was believed that the shape of the sun also varied with the cycle but that had never been confirmed because measurements taken from the earth’s surface were inconsistent due to distortion effects from the atmosphere.
Fortunately humanity developed its technology beyond the goat-herders’ view (wouldn’t that mean some of that old text is in error?) and today (or a few years ago) we can put instruments up there is space to look at the sun in details, plus other platforms to look at the 13.7B year-old universe where all the photons we see were created in mid-flight 6000 years ago. But we don’t run into any controversy about the sun’s age (isn’t it a day younger than the earth?) so our Solar Dynamics Observatory has now measured the shape of the sun more accurately and now we find that the shape does not vary with the solar cycle. Gosh, I guess that means some scientists will have to revise their ideas (I wonder if they’ll try to claim revelation and eternal truth or give in to new evidence).
But it is interesting that now there are some puzzles to solve now that we know the shape more accurately. The sun is rounder than it should be (and we don’t have any historical measures of shape from the goat-herders to compare to, their science book omitted those details from the memo sent down). So it will take some explaining.
p.s. Now I don’t have any links to some of those film clips of the sun’s violent storms and activity, but if you get a chance to look at some look closely. These features, loops, holes, vortices, are often bigger than the entire earth so just imagine the tremendous energy involved. And the sun has been doing that for around 4.5B years (although it was created as already (4,570,000,000 – 6,000) years old) and it’s expected to be around for another few billion – that’s a LOT of gas. Of course if you’d like to see the alternative point of view, here’s a little junk science (interestingly only claims sun is less old than biologist’s evidence for age of life on earth) that they’ll be using in schools in Louisiana.