Sunlight Intercepted by Planets

The vast majority of the sun's light will never encounter matter again. What fraction reaches the major and dwarf planets?

Given the diameter in km D, and the average distance from the sun in AU, the fraction intercepted by a round object object is:

Planet

Diameter km

Distance AU

Intercepted Fraction

Mercury

4878

0.39

4.37e-10

Venus

12104

0.72

7.89e-10

Earth

12756

1.00

3.15e-10

Mars

6787

1.52

5.57e-11

Jupiter

142800

5.20

2.11e-09

Saturn

120000

9.54

4.42e-10

Uranus

51118

19.18

1.98e-11

Neptune

49528

30.06

7.58e-12

Dwarf Planet

Ceres

975

2.77

3.46e-13

Pluto

2300

39.44

9.50e-15

Eris

~2700

67.67

4.45e-15

Total

4.17e-09

Only 4.2 parts per billion of the Sun's light hits planets. 99.99999958% of the Sun's light leaves the solar system. Half of the tiny fraction intercepted is by Jupiter, 19% by Venus, 11% by Saturn, 10% by Mercury, and 8% by Earth, with a small fraction of the tiny fraction intercepted by the other planets, dwarf planets, moons, asteroids, and Kuiper belt objects.

Interstellar Interception

With a diameter of 1,390,000 kilometers, the Sun's disk comprises 98% of the cross section of all the area of solar system bodies. Light from other stars has no detectable effect on the Sun, and vice versa, but at least that light gets intercepted. What percentage of the sun's light will hit other stars, rather than continue into empty intergalactic space?

We can work the problem backwards. All the light from all the stars are equivalent to about 1000 stars with a visual magnitude of 1. (Roach, F. E. & Megill, L. R., "Integrated Starlight Over the Sky", Astrophysical Journal, vol. 133, p.228 ). To an observer on the Earth, the Sun has a visual magnitude of -26.74, so it is 10(27.74/2.5) or 1.2e11 brighter than one of those stars, or 1.2e8 times brighter than all of them. Since we are getting 1366 watts per square meter from the sun, we are getting 11 microwatts per square meter illumination from all the stars.

The sun occupies 4.8e-6 of the sky. If we assume those other stars have similar light outputs per steradian, (dodgy assumption, a few bright ones dominate!) then those stars occupy 4.8e-6/1.2e8 or 4e-14 of the sky. Clouds of cold interstellar gas may intercept more light, but if that was significant, we would expect to see more reflected light from those clouds. Overall, the amount of light intercepted by matter outside the solar system is probably less than 1e-13, a tiny fraction of the light intercepted by the planets. The universe is an empty place; when light leaves the sun, it effectively disappears.

SunlightPlanets (last edited 2012-03-22 15:40:43 by KeithLofstrom)