Think solar power is boring? No way! Not only has it been around for a lot longer than you’d imagine, it could also be a key to exploring the universe. Read on for some strange and interesting facts about solar.
The idea of harnessing the sun’s energy has been around for a very, very long time. As far back as 700 B.C., people used glass lenses to magnify sunlight and start fires. In the 3rd century B.C., Greeks and Romans used mirrors to light religious torches. And according to legend, in around 212 B.C. Archimedes reflected sunlight off of bronze shields to set fire to the wooden ships of invading Romans.
The Earth’s sun is special. While astronomers were once dismissive of the sun, considering it a small and insignificant star, consensus amongst scientists has now changed. The sun is now classified in the top 5% of Milky Way stars based on its brightness and size. This brightness is part of why solar power is such an efficient alternative energy solution.
Satellites have used solar energy since 1958. In that year, the Vanguard I satellite was equipped with a small array that was used to power radios. The Vanguard II, Sputnik-3, and Explorer III, which were launched later that year, all had photovoltaic-powered systems. Though solar power has ebbed and flowed in public use throughout the years, it has remained a reliable and acceptable energy source in space exploration to this day.
Solar printing may help us explore the universe. A recently-developed solar 3-D printer (or sintering machine) has, in limited experiments, been able to print glass bowls from sand. While still in its early stages, this technology has the potential to allow NASA explorers to print equipment and buildings on-site, rather than constructing them on Earth. If successful, this could be hugely beneficial to the study of the sun, moon, Mars, and asteroids.
Albert Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics for a discovery related to the photoelectric effect. Photovoltaic (PV) cells are devices that use the photoelectric effect to convert direct current electricity from sunlight, and PV panels are one of the primary means of generating solar energy today.
Putting money into a solar system is better than investing in the stock market. After your solar power system is paid off, any electricity you gain from it is free—and in many states, you can receive payments for any excess energy you feed back into the grid. The cost of solar installations is also dropping, meaning that paying it off is becoming more and more manageable. In addition, there are probably a number of state and federal tax credits and incentives you can take advantage of to help cover the costs of switching to solar power. All in all, this adds up to a lot of savings over time.
On average, taxpayers in the United States pay nearly 100 times as much for fossil fuel subsidies as for solar energy. This means that fossil fuel consumption and dependence are actually far more expensive than most people think.
Just one hour of solar energy can provide more energy than Earth’s population will use in one year. This indicates that the sun could be capable of replacing all other forms of energy production, in a potentially limitless capacity.