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ExploraTour - How to Build a Star


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Stars generate power through nuclear fusion. Fusion is the joining together of light nuclei to form a heavier nucleus. The heavier nucleus has less mass than the combined mass of the lighter nuclei. The missing mass is converted into energy. In the sun, hydrogen nuclei are being fused together to form helium.

Hydrogen is commonly found on Earth in water. Water is a molecule made up of 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen atoms. Within water, a small percentage of the hydrogen exists as deuterium which is a heavy form of hydrogen. The deuterium nucleus contains a proton and a neutron; while the nucleus in a hydrogen atom contains only a proton. This heavy form of hydrogen can be used as fuel in fusion reactors. If we can find a way to make fusion power plants work, we will have a virtually limitless supply of power using the deuterium in seawater as fuel.

If all of the mass in a 20-gallon fish tank were converted into energy (not just the deuterium), it could supply the energy needs of the entire U.S. for nearly a month!

So far we have been unable to find a container that will hold the hot dense mixture of ions and electrons that is needed to force fusion to occur. This is not likely to be solved anytime soon.

So how is the sun able to do it so easily?


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Our online store includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, ranging from seismology, rocks and minerals, oceanography, and Earth system science to astronomy!

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ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Look at the bed below the body of the sleeping man. You can still see where he was lying down. The heat from his body warmed up the bed sheets which are now radiating infrared light toward your eyes....more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

All warm objects (not just people) release infrared light. Warmer objects give off more infrared light. Very hot objects radiate other types of light as well. Click on the picture to see the infrared...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

What kinds of light can people see? Our eyes can see visible light. When it passes into our eyes different types of visible light create different sensations that we see as colors. ...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Imagine you found a pair of special glasses that not only gave you telescopic vision but gave you the ability to see all forms of radiant energy. The universe in visible light contains all the familiar...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a volcano on the island of Miyake in Japan. It has erupted, sending hot lava and ash into the air, a total of ten times. The time after one eruption until the next occurred was about twenty years...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a picture of a galaxy in visible light. A galaxy is a large number of stars, some like our sun, some bigger, some smaller and all moving together through space. This galaxy is called Centaurus...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a plant in Gary, Indiana where power is made. We use power to run things like television sets, radios, lights, and microwave ovens. The picture looks very strange because it was taken in infrared....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA