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Fusion Reactions - Windows to the Universe

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The D-T fusion reaction, is the most efficient reaction known in terms of energy released.
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Image courtesy of Plasma Physics Laboratory

Fusion Reactions

The center of an atom is called the nucleus. Nuclei is the plural of nucleus. When two atoms come together, and their nuclei combine, you have fusion.

Fusion releases energy. By using Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2, scientists can figure out how much energy is released.

Fusion happens most easily in a high density, high temperature environment. Fusion reactions power the Sun and other stars.

For a fusion reaction to happen, the nuclei have to be very close together. At this point the nuclear force takes effect so the nuclei are pulled together.

On Earth, nuclear fusion was first reached in the explosion of the Hydrogen bomb. Fusion has also been reached in different experimental devices that are not being used in a destructive way.

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Cool It! Game

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The Hydrogen Bomb

In the Hydrogen bomb, an explosion takes place so that the temperature and density is right for fusion to occur. This fusion results in a sudden release of energy that produces an even bigger explosion....more

Fusion Experiments

Nuclear fusion has been achieved in a controlled manner (that means no bombs are involved!!). Right now, these fusion experiments take in more energy than they produce. So they can't be used right now...more

The Solar Core

The center of the Sun is called the core. The core is made up of a really hot gas (in the plasma state). The temperature in the core is 15 million kelvins ! That's REALLY HOT! The core is where the energy...more

Binding Energy

A plot of the binding energy per nucleon vs. atomic mass shows a peak atomic number 56 (Iron). Elements with atomic mass less then 56 release energy if formed as a result of a fusion reaction. Above this...more

Creating Elements up to Iron

When the temperature in the core of a star is really hot (100 million degrees Kelvin!) fusion of Helium into Carbon happens. Oxygen is also formed when the temperature is this high. When it gets even hotter...more

The Big Bang

All of the matter and energy in the Universe was initially found in a very small space. An explosion happened which caused the Universe to begin expanding. ...more

Neutrinos

The neutrino is an extremely light particle. (You definitely couldn't weigh one on your bathroom scale!) It also has no electric charge. Fusion reactions in the Sun produce neutrinos. By detecting these...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF