If There Is No Air in Space, How Does the Sun Burn
by Alex Lee, age 13
Fire is caused when oxygen reacts with another substance, like carbon. The result of that chemical reaction is known as combustion. But there is no air in space, so how does the sun burn? Well, the sun doesn’t really “burn” like a campfire, it actually boils. Its atoms crash into each other, which creates a unique process called nuclear fusion.
Hydrogen atoms, the sun’s primary element, rotate around the star’s plasma core. Sometimes, with enough force, the atoms join together to form a larger atom. Some matter is lost during this process because it is changed into energy. At least 4.5 million tons of matter is turned into energy every second to generate the sun’s light and warmth.
It took a long time for scientists to understand the burning process and the sun’s composition. At first, astronomers thought of a plethora of theories to explain how the sun works. Astronomers in the early 1900’s concluded that the sun was made mostly of hydrogen and helium. Then in 1939 German-American physicist, Hans Bethe, discovered the mechanisms of solar nuclear fusion. In 1967, Bethe won a Nobel Prize for Physics for his work.
Physicists say that the sun’s nuclear fusion will keep “burning” for another five billion years.