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Dragons and Space Dust

My teaching assistant, Jackie Villadsen, recently completed an excellent podcast for 365 Days of Astronomy. The audio and transcript are here. Here's an excerpt:
Stars are the dragons of the Universe. Their massive fiery bellies boil with an inconceivable heat. This heat comes from nuclear reactions. When we set off a nuclear bomb on Earth (which is a very unfortunate and unnatural process), we create for just a tiny moment and in a tiny space the high temperatures needed to fuse together four hydrogen atoms and make helium. By comparison, this process of fusion chugs along constantly, and completely naturally, in the belly of the Sun for 10 billion years! Imagine 10 billion years of continuous nuclear bombs… how strong that is!
The rest of the post takes the reader through the fascinating process of stellar nucleosynthesis, or the way in which all of the elements heavier than lithium are processed in the centers of massive stars and blown back into outer space through supernova explosions. These elements then form the seeds of planetary systems, some of which eventually give rise to life.  We are star stuff!


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