(Submitted April 14, 1998)
Why does it take so long for a photon to escape from the sun? How would
the amount of interactions affect this time?
The core of the Sun is extremely hot, many millions of degrees, so
electrons are stripped from their atoms. This means that there are
a lot of free electrons whizzing around in the Sun. With the densities
that are typical for the core of the Sun (a few gm/cm3) there will
be many interactions with photons. It is the density and the effective cross
section of an electron , and the average velocity of an electron
(usually determined from the temperature) which determine the amount
of time for an interaction (or, actually, between interactions).
The size of the Sun, and the average distance a photon travels between
interactions ("mean free path") determines the number of
interactions (its actually proportional to the square of
(radius of sun)/ (mean free path).
Once we plug in the right numbers for the Sun, I get a number of
about 100,000 years. I think the more "official" number is
about 1 million years.
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