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Why Do Things Heat Up After Spending Long Periods of Time in the Sun?

Heat Up After Spending Long Periods of Time in the Sun?

By WAQAS AHMADPublished 3 months ago 5 min read
Why Do Things Heat Up After Spending Long Periods of Time in the Sun?
Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash


On a warm day, it's typical to touch items that have been exposed to the sun for some time and feel heat emanating from them. Have you ever questioned why anything occurs? A remarkable synthesis of physics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetic wave behaviour can be seen in the phenomenon of objects becoming hot after prolonged exposure to sunshine. In this essay, we will examine the fundamental processes that result in the heating of objects after prolonged exposure to sunlight.

  • Solar Radiation's Function
By Antonio Garcia on Unsplash

Solar radiation, the energy emitted by the Sun as electromagnetic waves, is a crucial component of this process. UV, visible light, and infrared radiation are just a few of the many wavelengths that make up solar energy. These rays interact with numerous things and materials as they get to the surface of the Earth.

  • Taking in solar energy
By Alessandro Bianchi on Unsplash

The way that objects absorb solar radiation is one of the key concepts at work. Different wavelengths of solar light are absorbed by various materials to differing degrees. For instance, dark things often absorb more solar radiation than light ones. This explains why dark surfaces, like asphalt or black automobile seats, typically become significantly hotter in the sun than lighter ones.

An object's surface absorbs some of the solar energy when it is exposed to sunlight. The atoms and molecules within the material are excited by this energy, which causes them to vibrate more vigorously. The temperature of the object rises as a result of the heat produced by these vibrations. This explains why items that have been exposed to the sun for a long time get warm to the touch.

  • Mirroring and Albedo
By Mark König on Unsplash

Albedo, another name for reflectivity, is a key factor in determining how hot an object gets when exposed to sunlight. The amount of solar radiation that an object reflects rather than absorbs is measured as reflectivity. High-albedo materials, such as snow or shiny metals, reflect a lot of incident sunlight and keep their temperatures down.

On the other hand, materials like asphalt and garments with a low albedo quickly warm up because they absorb more solar radiation. This is why a white car will stay cooler under the same conditions when compared to a black car that has been left in the sun.

  • Temperature Conduction

Thermal conductivity, or a material's capacity to transfer heat, is an additional consideration. High thermal conductivity materials, such as metals, effectively transfer heat away from their surface, which can aid in dissipating part of the solar energy absorbed. As a result, they feel hotter to the touch than materials with high thermal conductivity, such as wood or plastic.

  • Environmental impact
By Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash

The warming of items exposed to sunlight also includes the greenhouse effect. This phenomenon is comparable to what occurs inside a greenhouse, when heat is generated inside by sunlight entering through glass walls. In this instance, the Earth's atmosphere behaves like a greenhouse, letting some of the longwave radiation released by the planet's surface through while blocking some shortwave solar energy.

Infrared radiation is one of the byproducts of solar energy absorption by an item. The greenhouse effect can delay the object's ability to lose this infrared radiation, effectively trapping heat and making the thing hotter overall.

Radiation, Conduction, and Convection

We need to look at how heat is transferred in order to comprehend why things get warm after being exposed to the sun for a long time. Heat is transferred primarily through conduction, convection, and radiation.

  1. Heat is transferred through direct contact between two objects, or conduction. An object's surface can transfer heat deeper into the material when exposed to sunshine. This is the reason why, for instance, a metal picnic table can get uncomfortable hot during the summer.
  2. Convection: The movement of fluids, such as air or water, allows for the transmission of heat. Heat can be removed from an object by creating a flow of air by rising and becoming less dense as the air around it heats up. Because of this, windy circumstances can aid in cooling down hot surfaces.
  3. Heat is transferred through electromagnetic waves, or radiation. Infrared radiation is produced when an object absorbs solar light and releases heat as it does so. The air in the area and other nearby objects may absorb some of this radiation, which will cause them to warm as well.

The combination of these three methods of heat transfer is what causes items exposed to continuous sunlight to warm up.

  • Thermal Mass Effects

How hot an object gets in the sun is also influenced by its thermal mass. The capacity of an object to hold heat is referred to as thermal mass. Higher thermal mass objects can take in more heat energy before their temperature starts to rise significantly.

Think about a hardwood deck and a concrete patio that are both exposed to the same amount of sunshine. Compared to wood, concrete has a higher thermal mass, which allows it to hold onto heat energy longer. In spite of receiving the same amount of sun radiation, the concrete patio will feel warmer to the touch than the hardwood deck.


As a result of the absorption of solar radiation, low albedo, thermal conductivity, the greenhouse effect, and the interaction of heat transfer processes, things are heated when exposed to sunlight for an extended length of time. The amount of an object's temperature increase in the sun depends on its colour, composition, and thermal mass.

By being aware of these principles, we may choose the right materials for our homes, clothes, and other daily items. It also serves as a reminder of the incredible interaction between the energy of the Sun and the natural elements that surround us, which influences how we view the world on a daily basis. The next time you handle a burning car door handle or sit on a bench that has been warmed by the sun, you'll be more aware of how science works.

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