Do we need sun to survive? 
By UCSD ScienceLine

Posted December 27, 2018.  Disclaimer

" Clearly we have evolved as 'naked apes' and thus have evolved to be outside and exposed to sunlight on a daily basis. Thus it is natural that sunshine plays an important part in the function of our bodies."  Haselhurst: Importance of sunshine

Do we need the sun to survive?

Answer 1:

sun rays earth Great question! There are two ways to think about your question. First, think about whether a human needs sunlight directly. How would you test this? One way would be to place that person in a room without any sunlight and see what happens. Of course, you would not do this to a person, but you can go through the "thought experiment" and make predictions. It turns out that sunlight absorbed through our skin is necessary in order for our bodies to produce and use certain vitamins and minerals. Our modern diets now supplement us with some of those (like the vitamin D in fortified milk). On the downside, too much sunlight (actually, only certain UV wavelength light in sunlight) can cause skin cancer (melanoma).The second way to think about your question is in the "indirect sense." I bet you have studied the food web in class. As you know, plants need sunlight to produce energy through photosynthesis. And since plants form the foundation of the food web, what do you think would happen if suddenly there was not much sunlight available?

Answer 2:

We definitely need the sun to survive, for many reasons. Without the sun, our planet would get extremely cold, and all living things on it would die. Plants use the sun's energy for photosynthesis, which is the process they use to make nutrients. All animals on Earth depend on plants' ability to do that, either because they eat the plants directly (like cows and humans) or because they eat other animals that eat plants (like cheetahs who eat gazelles, or humans who eat chickens). If plants couldn't use the sun to make nutrients, all living things on the planet would starve. There are many other things the sun does for us, as well. We definitely need it!

Answer 3:

Yes, we definitely need the sun to survive. The sun provides the vast majority of the energy we need to live. In outer space, away from the sun it is very cold -- about 450F below zero! Maybe someday our technology will be advanced enough to let us travel between our solar system and other stars. We might spend long periods of time away from the sun, but we would still need to come back to a star for energy at some (our sun is a star -- it just looks a lot bigger because it is closer). The sun warms our atmosphere so it is a good temperature for life as we know it. All the oil and coal we burn is essentially energy from the sun that was trapped in plants and animals that died and turned into oil and coal. Now we release that energy by burning the oil and coal. Wind energy comes from the sun heating the atmosphere and causing the air to move around. Yeah sun!

Answer 4:

The short answer to your question is absolutely!

The long answer is not directly. Humans need sunlight to make Vitamin D, which helps us absorb calcium from our food. You can take all the calcium supplements you want, but unless you have enough Vitamin D, they won't really help. Calcium is important for building bones and making tooth enamel, and also for general good health, since calcium is important for muscle contraction and nerve function (nerves help with conscious thought, movement, body functions and collecting information from our environment like touch, smell, sound, taste, pain, etc). New data from nutrition scientists suggests that many people do not get enough sunlight to make the Vitamin D they need to absorb calcium. (Sunscreen screens out the type of light needed to make Vitamin D.) I'm guessing that humans could probably survive without sunlight, although our bones wouldn't develop normally.

What we really need sunlight for, and what ALL animals on earth need sunlight for, is the creation of food. Humans and other animals are called heterotrophs, which means "other" "feeding". Heterotrophs need to eat other organisms to survive. If you're a vegetarian, the organisms you are eating are plants. If you eat meat, the organisms you are eating are animals, and those animals probably ate plants, or ate other organisms that ate plants. For example, cows eat plants like grass and corn. Chickens eat plants and insects and worms. Those insects and worms got their food from plants, or from other insects and bacteria that ate plants. This is called a food chain, and it allows you to figure out the source of all your food. Write down a list of everything you ate for lunch and figure out where that food came from. (You may need to get help from your teacher to do this.) For example, if you had a hamburger and fries: the bread in the bun was made of flour, which comes from plants. The beef came from cows, which eat plants. The lettuce, onions and tomatoes came from plants. The fries are potatoes, which are plants. If you had a Coke with it, the sugar in the Coke came from plants. If you do this, you'll soon realize that the ultimate source of ALL food is plants. How can plants make their own food? They are able to use the energy in sunlight to make food from gas in the atmosphere and water and nutrients in the soil. This is a process called "photosynthesis", which means "to make food" "from sunlight". It's pretty amazing, when you think about it, but it means that plants cannot live without sunlight. So in this sense, humans and all heterotrophs need sunlight because we need plants for food and plants need sunlight. There are VERY few exceptions to this, and these animals live at the bottom of the ocean, or in other environments where there is no sunlight.

"Charles Darwin, famous for his theory of evolution, knew a thing or two about survival. In the 1800s, the British naturalist provided evidence to support the notion that humans evolved over time and survived due to the concept of natural selection -- that is, only the strong survive. Natural selection is a pretty simple theory. Imagine two groups of worms, one brown and one red. Since the Earth can't support unlimited population growth from all species, the weaker species gets weeded out over time and the stronger species lives on. In this case, let's say that birds really love to eat the red worms. Over time, more red worms get eaten, so they aren't able to realize their full reproductive potential. During that same time, the brown worms get busy and reproduce like rabbits. This means fewer red worms. Eventually they could even completely go away, leaving only the brown worms. This is natural selection in its simplest form, and it's the key to whether humans have a natural predisposition to survive -- if we're wired that way."  Bryant: humans wired to survive

Ancient Sun Worshiping: The concept of sun worship is one nearly as old as mankind itself. In societies that were primarily agricultural, and depended on the sun for life and sustenance, it is no surprise that the sun became deified. Wigington [in the reference below] provides a very brief but informative summary of ancient civilizations recognizing the importance of the sun even though they lacked the understanding of the sun and solar system that most persons have today.

Your feedback is most appreciated: E-mail to: Author Walter Sorochan

To return to: web-site main page


Bryant Charles W., "Are humans wired to survive?" How Stuff Works,  Bryant: humans wired to survive

Haselhurst Geoff, "Importance of sunshine," On Truth & Reality.  Haselhurst: Importance of sunshine

UCSB, "Do we need sun to survive?" UCSD ScienceLine, November 24, 2005.  UCSD: Sun to survive 2005

Wigington Patti, "Sun worship," Thought C., Wigington: Sun worship