Stump Jonathan Coulton In this installment of Stump Jonathan Coulton, we ask him to tell us what color the sun is from space.
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Stump Jonathan Coulton

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Stump Jonathan Coulton

Stump Jonathan Coulton

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm your host, Ophira Eisenberg.


EISENBERG: It's time for a little game we call, Stump Jonathan Coulton.

JONATHAN COULTON: I already don't like it.

EISENBERG: Yes, it's a great new game. So the premise is simple. We ask Jonathan a question - we give him a weird piece of trivia, and we just see if he can figure out the answer.




EISENBERG: Can he be stumped? Can Jonathan Coulton...


EISENBERG: ...Be stumped?

COULTON: Probably, yes.

EISENBERG: We'll find out.


EISENBERG: Here is our very simple question, which I think you're going to know immediately. In space...

COULTON: Oh, boy.

EISENBERG: ...What color is the sun?

COULTON: In space, what color is the sun?

EISENBERG: Exactly. In space - when you are in space, what color is the sun?

COULTON: First of all, I'm probably not ever going to be in space.

EISENBERG: Well, you know what?

COULTON: I've come to accept that it is too late for me to join the astronaut program.

EISENBERG: You don't know anything, man.

COULTON: No, I'm pretty old, I'm pretty old. I'm not that physically fit...


EISENBERG: ...And I don't want to die in space, is the other thing.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: What color is the sun in space? OK. The reason the color might change in space is because currently when we look at the sun, we're standing on the Earth.

EISENBERG: Yes. A brand-new name for it, but that's what we're calling it.

COULTON: And we're looking through a very thin layer of our atmosphere, right? Which, presumably, you know, is mostly clear - otherwise, we wouldn't be able to see through it - but possibly has some effect of filtering out certain colors...


COULTON: ...Because it's made of stuff.


COULTON: I'm not a scientist. I don't know what air is made of. Mostly nitrogen...

EISENBERG: Could - yeah?

COULTON: ...Oxygen, some other things in there. So the question is, does the atmosphere change the color of the sun?

EISENBERG: Could it and does it?

COULTON: There's also a lot of - well, let's think about the sunset. The sun changes color, literally...

EISENBERG: Sure, sure does.

COULTON: ...When it sets. Can I ask for a clarification?

EISENBERG: I would love to give you one.

COULTON: Are we talking about a high noon sun?

EISENBERG: I think we're talking about, in space, there is no noon.


COULTON: No, I know in space there is no noon. Are we comparing it to - it's no fair if you're going to say, oh, no, but during sunset it's red.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. OK. Let's say a high noon sun.

COULTON: A high noon sun?


COULTON: And just regular sun in space at any time.

EISENBERG: All the time.

COULTON: Because there's no noon.

EISENBERG: All day, all night.

COULTON: Unless you're on some other planet, in which case, it could be noon. I just want to point that out.

EISENBERG: But they call it moon.

COULTON: They call it moon. All right. So if you're in space - I'm going to say - I'm going to say, yes, the sun is the same color. It is a - it's a yellow star. And it's a yellow sun, and it's our sun.


EISENBERG: And it's ours.

COULTON: And it's the best - best sun, best sun.


COULTON: Always yellow, right? Best sun.


EISENBERG: I think it's the best sun, too. But the answer is not yellow.

COULTON: Son of a...

EISENBERG: (Laughter). The sun in space is white.

COULTON: No one can believe it.



EISENBERG: Why? You're right, it normally looks yellow from Earth because of the atmosphere. Yeah, you were all right about that.

COULTON: I was right.

EISENBERG: All those things in it. So the visible light breaks up into colors of the rainbow - red, orange, yellow, blue, green, indigo, violet - and then the air scatters, and parts of the visible light at the lower end of the spectrum so it looks yellow. At sunset, the sun is closer to the horizon so it looks red, right? But in space, it is a pure white ball because it combines all the colors in the visible spectrum.

COULTON: That's really beautiful when you describe it that way.

EISENBERG: Isn't that amazing?

COULTON: You know what, though? It is still the best sun.

EISENBERG: It is still the best sun.



COULTON: Our sun, ladies and gentlemen.


COULTON: The best.

EISENBERG: Never look directly into it.

COULTON: No, it'll blind you.

EISENBERG: Sly Stallone, the sun - same rules.


COULTON: Did not know that.

EISENBERG: Yeah, don't look into his eyes, and never look directly into the sun, especially in space. We did stump you a little bit, Jonathan Coulton...

COULTON: You totally stumped me.

EISENBERG: ...Although you said all those amazing things.

COULTON: I said all the right things and then I came to the wrong conclusion.

EISENBERG: Yeah so that's...

COULTON: Sort of my specialty.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) That's almost like being right. If you hear a piece of trivia and you think it might just stump Jonathan Coulton, please share it with us on Facebook or Twitter.


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