Thursday, September 27, 2012

30 Second Science: The Life and Death of a Star

One of my favorite science blogs is written by Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy.

Yesterday he posted this 14 minute video about the life and death cycle of a star. It's a pretty interesting video, and I highly recommend the 14 minutes.

After watching this video I was left with one question: How are elements larger than iron formed? As you saw, fusion creates all the elements up to iron just fine. At this point fusion switches from being exothermic (releasing energy) to endothermic (requiring energy). It turns out that neutron capture creates the other elements. A neutron has no charge and can therefore penetrate the electron cloud and collide with the nucleus, creating a more massive element. After an electron is emitted (beta decay), a new element is formed.1

A big thanks to Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy for posting the video and a big thanks to the original creator, Tony Silva.

[1] I have a few friends studying nuclear chemistry. I'm very nervous about my whole explanation of how larger elements are formed. Let's see if they correct me anywhere...