When it comes to solar radiation and its power, there is actually quite a lot to talk about. First of all, the sun gives off many different wave lengths of radiation, often called alpha, beta, and gamma waves. Next, the sun also gives off 3 different bands of radiation, and these include visible light, infrared light, and ultra violet light. Moreover, there are also different types of solar radiation in terms of the amount that reaches the earth, or in other words, direct and diffused radiation.
The shortest wavelength of radiation which the sun gives off is the gamma ray. The gamma ray is in fact the most powerful kind of solar radiation. These rays really do not reach the earth, and if there are any on earth, it’s probably due to nuclear and solar energy power plants. With that being said, if a blast of gamma rays from the sun were to reach the earth, it would be absolutely catastrophic.
A strong burst of gamma rays can penetrate through 6 feet of reinforced steel like a hot knife through butter. A burst of gamma rays like this can be fatal in as little as 20 minutes. These rays are not visible to the human eye, only to special instruments. Although not visible, they definitely pack a punch and are more or less lethal to anything which comes into contact with them. However, keep in mind that gamma rays are really only released when solar flares occur, not from the burning of the sun itself.
To be clear, if a huge solar flare occurs and a burst of gamma rays came toward earth, it would obliterate the ozone layer and cause mass extinction even on the whole planet.
Another very powerful type of radiation from the sun is the X-ray. X-rays, while still not being visible to the human eye, are longer in wavelength than gamma rays. With that being said, X-rays are still very powerful and potent. As you probably know, X-rays are used in imaging and scans to detect broken bones and other such things in a body.
These X-rays are powerful enough to penetrate through flesh, bone, and other materials. There is a reason why you have to wear a special lead lined suit when getting an x-ray at the hospital. You don’t want those rays penetrating your organs, especially your sex organs. Having too many X-rays bombarded into your body can cause growth defects and it can give you radiation poisoning with high levels of exposure.
The next type of solar radiation is that of UV radiation, otherwise known as ultra violet radiation. Once again, these radiation waves are longer in length than X-rays, but they still cannot be seen. As the trend seems to be, the shorter the wave length, the more powerful they are.
So, gamma rays will more or less destroy any natural thing in its path, X-rays can pass through objects and do damage with long exposure, and UV rays, although not visible, can still do damage. Ultra violet rays are those which burns your skin if you stay out in the sun for too long, at least if you are not wearing adequate protection.
Although UV radiation is not as powerful as gamma waves or x-rays, it does still pack quite a punch. People have gotten first degree burns from being out in the sun for too long, with some suffering from heat stroke, nausea, dehydration, and in the worst cases, even death.
Another type of solar radiation worth talking about is that of visible light. Visible light comes in at the exact right wave length so that we humans can see. The wave length of visible light is not too short, and not too long, thus making it visible to the human eye. A lot of the radiation which comes through to the earth from the sun is in the form of visible light.
Although it might seem like this kind of radiation is very powerful, it in fact does not really pose any kind of threat to biological life. In fact, without visible light, plants could not survive at all, and therefore neither could humans.
Although this type of radiation has a longer wave length than any of the others we have talked about, it is not really dangerous to us, nor is it that powerful, plus it cannot be seen by the naked eye. However, as you probably know, infrared goggles and scopes, which are often employed by the military and police, do have the ability to see infrared radiation. It’s how those criminals hiding behind walls are caught!
Direct vs. Diffuse Radiation
Something else to keep in mind are that there are two different types of radiation in relation to how well they actually reach the earth. Simply put, the sun’s radiation can be absorbed, scattered, or reflected back outwards into the atmosphere. Factors which affect this include smoke, ash, debris in the air, water vapor, air molecules, dust, clouds, and other pollutants.
The more of these things there are in the air, the more radiation is reflected, absorbed, and scattered. Any remaining radiation that passes through these various things and reaches the earth is called diffused radiation. It has been diffused by air molecules and clouds.
There is solar radiation which reaches the earth with nearly no obstacles in the way. This is called direct beam solar radiation. For obvious reasons, this is the most powerful kind of radiation that reaches the earth.
Ok, so the bottom line is that the type of solar radiation which is the most powerful is gamma radiation. Thankfully this kind of radiation never really makes its way to the earth. After that, there are X-rays, UV rays, visible light, infrared light, and a couple of others that we have not mentioned.