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The red giant star Betelgeuse: red giants are stars that have exhausted their Hydrogen fuel and are burning Helium and heavier elements.
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Image courtesy of NASA, Hubble Space Telescope Institute

Creating Elements up to Iron

When the temperature in the core of a star reaches 100 million degrees Kelvin fusion of Helium into Carbon occurs (three Helium nuclei combine to form a nucleus of Carbon). In the same range of temperature Oxygen is also formed from fusion of Carbon and Helium together.

At 500 million degrees Kelvin two Carbon (2 12C) nuclei can fuse to form heavier elements such as Neon (20Ne+4He), Sodium (23Na+1H), and Magnesium (24Mg).

Oxygen can start burning effectively at temperatures on the order of 1 billion degrees Kelvin. The fusion of two nuclei of Oxygen can produce Sulfur (32S), and Silicon (28Si+4He).

The heaviest elements obtainable through a fusion process that releases energy are obtained at a temperature range of 2 billions degrees Kelvin, when two Silicon nuclei can fuse to form Nickel (56Ni). Nickel-56 can then decay into Cobalt and Iron.

Movies courtesy of University of Oregon

Last modified May 10, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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