Friday, 7 April 2017

F is for Fusion, or Why Stars Shine

It wasn't until the 20th Century that we figured out how the Sun burned. Before that, several guesses involved burning oil or some other combustible. But as we learned to estimate the mass of the Sun, it became obvious that previous ideas were incorrect. There simply wasn't enough mass to keep the Sun burning for more than a few thousand years by that method.

Then a scientist called Arthur Eddington suggested that nuclear fusion might be the source of the Sun's apparently long-lived brightness.

Fusion is when two atomic nuclei join close enough to become one atomic nuclei. A surprising amount of energy is released when this happens. TL;DR - this energy is what makes a star shine.

Nerd stuff:
The Sun fuses hydrogen into helium, thus releasing vast quantities of energy in the form of gamma rays.

In smaller stars like our Sun, the fusing of hydrogen into helium takes place through a proton-proton chain reaction. Looks a little bit like this:

In bigger stars, they have fun fusing hydrogen into helium through a Carbon-Nitrogen-Oxygen cycle. It looks more like this:

Wanna have some fun? Look up stellar nucleosynthesis, which explains the output of fusion, and find out what nucleosynthesis makes.

What happens when a star starts fusing Mg into Fe?

Her Grace wonders if alchemists knew about fusion, if they'd still try to find methods of turning lead into gold?


sage said...

Interesting Post! I had to cheat to come up with my "F" as you'll see when it posts in the morning (I'm a bit behind you).

Cathy Kennedy said...

Heidi, nuclear fusion melts my brain just reading about it. Everything about the universe is marvelous and curious. Our divine Master designed these things I believe to demonstrates His power and creativity plus to amuse and stretch our imaginations. Fine job!

Let your “fingers do the walking” just follow Curious as a Cathy for the latest in Art Sketching Through the Alphabet featuring the letter “F” for fence, frog, fox, & funny face. Happy a2zing!