Ken Tapping is an astronomer with the National Research Council's Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Penticton

A hydrogen bomb explosion can be described as a very small, short-lived star.

In a hydrogen bomb some form of hydrogen is submitted to extreme compression and heating so that it undergoes nuclear fusion. This is achieved by using a nuclear fission bomb as a detonator. When the compressed fuel reaches temperatures of millions of degrees, the hydrogen atoms combine to form atoms of heavier elements, such as helium, and in the process liberate a prodigious amount of energy. The process stops when the fuel runs out or the fireball expands and cools too much for the reaction to continue. Stars are powered by what can be described as a continuous, supersized, tightly controlled hydrogen bomb explosion.

A gas cloud collapses to form a big ball of gas. The weight of the overlying material compresses the material in the core of the ball, making it hotter and hotter. If there is enough overlying material, the core reaches temperatures of 10-20 million degrees, and as in the case of the hydrogen bomb, nuclear fusion starts. Four hydrogen atoms combine to form one helium atom and liberate a lot of energy. However, in the case of a star we do not get an explosion. The weight of the overlying material prevents it.  If things get too hot the increased radiation pressure causes the new star to expand, which cools and decompresses the core, so the rate of fusion slows again. If the reaction gets too slow the star shrinks, the core gets more compressed and hotter, and the reaction speeds up. This stabilizes the star.

A starís life consists of three main phases: youth, where the star has just formed and is settling down, maturity, which is the longest part, where the star behaves consistently, and then old age, where the star is running out of fuel, and may start to behave irregularly. However, although all stars have these phases of life, how long that life is can vary enormously. A really big star can go through all three phases and blow itself apart while a small star is still settling down. Our Sun is about halfway through its 10 billion year lifetime.

It all depends upon how much material the embryo star collects from its birth cloud.

If it collects a lot before lighting up and blowing the cloud away the pressure in the core will be higher because of the larger amount of overlying material, and the temperature will be higher. Because it is being held down harder, its fusion furnace will burn larger and hotter. Double the mass of the star and it will shine roughly 15 times brighter, and will run in less than 2 billion years.

A star about 100 times the mass of the Sun wonít last very long at all. Stars with masses comparable with the Sun end their lives when they start running out of fuel by sneezing off their outer layers and then cooling off. Big stars collapse and then blow apart. The Summer Triangle, a grouping of three stars: Vega, Deneb and Altair, is high in the sky at the moment and easy to find. Vega is a blue-white star and almost overhead or westering. Deneb is less bright and lies to the left of Vega. Altair, lower in the sky, forms the last vertex of the triangle. Vega lies 25 light years away and is about 40 times more luminous than the Sun. Altair is closer, just 11 light years away and about 11 times more luminous. Although Deneb looks less bright and spectacular, it lies about 2,500 light years away and is about 250,000 times more luminous than the Sun. It is about 20 times more massive than the Sun, so in astronomical terms, Deneb will not be with us for long, and will eventually explode.

Saturn lies very low in the southwest in the evening. It is slowly sinking into the sunset glow before passing behind the Sun. Venus rises about 3 a.m., with Mars (much less bright), and Jupiter (nearly as bright) following close behind. By 5 a.m. all three planets should be visible.  The Moon will reach Last Quarter on the 4th.

Ken Tapping is an astronomer with the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Penticton.


Just Posted

princess margaret
Penticton high school has COVID-19 exposure days

Princess Margaret Secondary had potential days of exposure May 10-12

Brandon Messier of Messier’s Concrete and Landscaping has added some unique, glowing features to his front yard at 28 Huth Ave. (Submitted)
PHOTOS: Glowing boulders popping up in Penticton yards

Local landscaper Brandon Messier also brought the Lost statue to its new home

There is nothing left of a structure that burned down in rural Summerland Saturday night. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Nothing left at fire scene in Summerland

Summerland firefighters arrived when the structure was fully engulfed in flames

Penticton city parks staff were busy this week using the beach grater to sift through sand, getting the shores ready for beach season. When it comes to beach clean up they are collecting run-off debris, pulling weeds and picking up litter. (Penticton photo)
Hottest day of the year, so far, in the South Okanagan

Penticton city park staff cleaned up the beaches getting ready for the season

Discovery House executive director Jerome Abraham in front of the third building, Parkers Place, for the addiction recovery program. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Discovery House opens Parkers Place in Penticton to provide transitionary care

The addiction recovery program is now able to provide support for as long as necessary

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10 million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10 million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

(Kamloops This Week)
Puppy’s home in question as BC Supreme Court considers canine clash

Justice Joel Groves granted an injunction prohibiting the sale or transfer of the dog

Kayak the humpback whale was found dead on a Haida Gwaii beach on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (Marine Education and Research Society)
Kayak the humpback whale found dead on Haida Gwaii beach

Whale was estimated to be only 18 years old

Then-finance minister Kevin Falcon presents his last B.C. budget, Feb. 21, 2012. The province was emerging from the 2009-10 recession and repaying federal incentive to cancel the harmonized sales tax. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Political veteran Kevin Falcon set for second run at B.C. Liberal leadership

Vancouver MLA Michael Lee announces on the same day

Fate, an American cocker spaniel bred at Lavington’s Aladdin Cockers by Carol and Robin Edwards, is currently the No. 1 ranked cocker spaniel in the U.S. and has drawn an invitation to the world’s most famous dog show, the Westminster Kennel Club event in New York, next month. (Photo submitted)
Okanagan-bred cocker spaniel to strut stuff at Westminster Kennel Club

Fate, an American cocker spaniel bred by Lavington’s Aladdin Cockers, is ranked No. 1 in the U.S.

(Lindsey Roche/Contributed)
Kelowna children enjoy drive-in movie thanks to support from the community

A daycare in the Mission area gets creative during the COVID-19 pandemic

Conservation Service Officer Kyle Bueckert holds a gold eagle that was revived from acute rodent poisoning Monday, May 12. Photo: Submitted
‘Obviously, he’s a fighter’: Golden eagle, recovered from poisoning, back in Kootenay wild

CSO Kyle Bueckert released the eagle into the wild Thursday, May 13

Most Read