r/todayilearned May 24 '22

TIL the energy released by turning just one kilogram of hydrogen into helium is the same as burning 20,000 metric tons of coal. The sun is doing this constantly through nuclear fusion.

https://www.popsci.com/sun-burn-out
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u/raffaele2406 May 24 '22

Eventually, the sun’s core will convert all of its hydrogen inside to helium and the star will die. But don’t sweat it. That won’t happen for about another 5 billion years.

Asimov wrote that he said this last sentence during a conference and a worried lady asked "How much did you say???"

"5 billion years..."

The lady relieved "Aww. At first I understood 5 million..."

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u/m0rris0n_hotel 76 May 24 '22

5 billion. Only a length of time that is longer than the Earth has existed. It’ll be here before you know it.

Be sure to mark your calendars

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u/RedditAtWorkIsBad May 24 '22

To be fair, I swear with each year I age the year passes by quicker than the previous. At this rate of acceleration 5 billion years will be here only by the time I turn 100,000.

/r/IDidTheMathBadly

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u/InsuranceToTheRescue May 24 '22

This is actually somewhat true. As you age, time feels like it passes by faster, I think, because of how our brains process memories & time. Like, when you're 5, waiting an hour seems like it takes forever. But when you're 30 it's no big deal. When you're 5, that hour is a much larger proportion of your lifespan and memories than when you're 30, or 50, or 80. But I don't think there's one widely accepted answer for the phenomenon.

This is also why immortality would probably be an awful superpower. As you get older and older, the effect would increase until eventually people would be born, grow up, and die all in the blink of an eye to you. You would be alone forever once that began to happen. I mean, why search for new companionship when, to you, that person will be dead before you can blink?

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u/ZeusTwelth May 24 '22

The increased speed that time passes also has a lot to do with the less and less new experiences we have each year. Life tends to get repetitive and when you experience the same thing day in and out it seems to pass by a lot quicker.

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u/Incredible_Mandible May 24 '22

I see it as your brain "filtering out" repeat information/input. Normally it happens with background noise, blinking lights, persistent smell, etc. But I figure you experience the same activities long enough, they sort of get "filtered" too.

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u/BrianWeissman_GGG May 25 '22

The fantastic book “The Power of Habit” goes into this in detail. The basic hypothesis is that the brain is always pruning excess information, and will lapse back into patterns and rote habit whenever possible. Presumably this is done to conserve energy, as the brain uses up about 20% of total metabolism.

So the brain literally stops forming new memories when you are engaging in things you’ve done many times before. All the morning showers, all the commutes to work, all the after-work dinners. All of it gets overlaid in your memory as one single event, indistinguishable from any other.

Because our recollection of time passing is based on distinct and unique memories, we perceive time passing faster. Consequently, the way to counteract this is to fill your days with as many varied experiences as you can.

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u/moonsun1987 May 25 '22

What is scary is sometimes you can drive to work but not remember any details about the road for that particular trip.

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u/Mirria_ May 25 '22

Try to remember if you locked your front door leaving for work. Suddenly the mush of every day comes to fore.

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u/dubadub May 25 '22

Yup, that's how babies get left in the back of cars, too.

Coz we're just dumb humans.

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u/AkioDAccolade May 24 '22

Yup, change up your routine day to day and the days last forever

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u/ExcerptsAndCitations May 25 '22

Yup, change up your routine day to day and the days last forever

Dunbar loved shooting skeet because he hated every minute of it and the time passed so slowly. He had figured out that a single hour on the skeet-shooting range with people like Havermeyer and Appleby could be worth as much as eleven-times-seventeen years.

“I think you’re crazy,” was the way Clevinger had responded to Dunbar’s discovery.

“Who wants to know?” Dunbar answered.

“I mean it,” Clevinger insisted.

“Who cares?” Dunbar answered.

“I really do. I’ll even go as far as to concede that life seems longer i—“

“—is longer i—“

“—is longer—IS longer? All right, is longer if it’s filled with periods of boredom and discomfort, b—“

“Guess how fast?” Dunbar said suddenly.

“Huh?”

“They go,” Dunbar explained.

“Who?”

“Years.”

“Years?”

“Years,” said Dunbar. “Years, years, years.”

“Do you know how long a year takes when it’s going away?” Dunbar asked Clevinger. “This long.” He snapped his fingers. “A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you’re an old man.”

“Old?” asked Clevinger with surprise. “What are you talking about?”

“Old.”

“I’m not old.”

“You’re inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before that you were stepping into high school, and an unhooked brassiere was as close as you ever hoped to get to Paradise. Only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten-week summer vacation that lasted a hundred thousand years and still ended too soon. Zip! They go rocketing by so fast. How the hell else are you ever going to slow time down?” Dunbar was almost angry when he finished.

“Well, maybe it is true,” Clevinger conceded unwillingly in a subdued tone. Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it’s to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?”

“I do,” Dunbar told him.

“Why?” Clevinger asked.

“What else is there?”

  • Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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u/jbicha May 25 '22

I believe this is the first time I've seen an extended Catch-22 quote. That book is wild. Hard to read because of how monotonous it is, but I think that itself is the point of the book.

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u/ExcerptsAndCitations May 25 '22

"I used to hate reading Catch-22. I still do, but I used to, too."

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u/shponglespore May 25 '22

I couldn't finish it, and back then I almost never just gave up on a book I had chosen to read.

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u/pagit May 24 '22

Yea when I travel or do new things a day or week goes by longer than when I’m working.

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u/Soft_Use229 May 24 '22

ehhh, not exactly, your mind starts to grapple with categories and constructs as you mature which shapes your understanding and relationship to time. so sure, it speeds up, but likely not forever. Constructs like week, year, eon, start to hold more weight id imagine so youre not literally blinking and "missing" a life. Also something to be said about max memory and how new memory can pushes out old, which further would effect how we think about and experience time.

just some thoughts

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u/NedDasty May 25 '22

The weird thing is time passes regardless of how we interpret it. It didn't matter if it's slow or fast. It's fucking inevitable. Remember when you were 15 and thought "man some day I'll be XX years old"? It's now. Right now, we're thinking "man some day the sun will be a billion years old" and at some point it will be now. I hate it.

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u/AerodynamicBrick May 24 '22

which will remarkably still be 2020

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u/Acewasalwaysanoption May 24 '22

Don't forget to subtract the number of years that passed since Asimov said the 5 billion.

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u/tacknosaddle May 25 '22

Fuck! Now that it's that much closer I'm starting to panic about the sun burning out!!

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u/The_Way_It_Iz May 24 '22

I always think about immortality, someone did a logic exercise about immortality. They said how at first it would be hard because you would outgrow your family and loved ones. Over the years you would see countries come and go, civilizations rise and fall. Eventually you would see the end of the earth, then the solar system, then finally the entire universe. Floating in nothing forever with nothing, being a conscious being with nothing but the emptiness of space

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u/Chimie45 May 24 '22

And you would be really hungry.

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u/in_n_out_on_camrose May 24 '22

What’s worse is that if you got say, trapped under a landslide or fell into some impossibly deep crevasse - and you just spend eons trapped there. Which at first seems unlikely, but if you’re roaming the earth for a few hundred thousand years the odds start going up… and THEN you get to float in emptiness after you miss the chance to enjoy the remainder of the earth

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u/In-burrito May 25 '22 edited May 25 '22

I think you'd be able to dig yourself out after a few million years. Even if all you can do is wiggle your fingers at first.

Look what water can do to granite, given enough time.

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u/in_n_out_on_camrose May 25 '22

Just chillin with the fossils, you know doing my Andy Dufresne thing trying to make my outta here

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u/r3dditor12 May 24 '22

at first it would be hard because you would outgrow your family and loved ones

Solution: give them immortality also.

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u/troublethemindseye May 25 '22

Sounds good to me

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u/Ponyboy451 May 24 '22

!remindme 5 billion years

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u/Potatoswatter May 24 '22

!remindme 5000000000 years

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u/Gmax100 May 24 '22

I will be messaging you in 5000000000 years on 9999-05-24 16:40:31 UTC to remind you of this link

CLICK THIS LINK to send a PM to also be reminded and to reduce spam.

Parent commenter can delete this message to hide from others.


Info Custom Your Reminders Feedback

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u/Tentapuss May 24 '22

Found the next Y2K bug. We have awhile, but no reason to not start planning now.

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u/Hearte42 May 24 '22

Y10K bug

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u/Soft_Use229 May 24 '22

more like Fry2k

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u/neobowman May 25 '22

4 hours in, no one's mentioned this is a Rickroll fake bot post yet.

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u/CletusDSpuckler May 24 '22

Of course, the earth only has 1 or maybe 2 billion years left before increased solar output makes it tough to stay.

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u/Alert-Garlic1998 May 24 '22 edited May 25 '22

My understanding is that the dynamo in Earth’s core will spin down before this, removing the magnetosphere and exposing the planet to stellar radiation. So… wear sunscreen.

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u/Bored_of_the_Ring May 24 '22

wear sunscreen

Immediate Baz Luhrman.

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u/mothmountain May 24 '22

catch me with my tits outttt

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u/ZDTreefur May 24 '22

Unless we build some megaprojects, and start syphoning off the Sun's mass, which will reduce its size, and extend its lifespan. The sun could carry on for trillions of years if properly managed.

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u/BarbequedYeti May 25 '22

Good thing we have a few billion to figure it out. We can’t even manage to get along yet.

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u/golfgrandslam May 24 '22

We’ll just switch back to coal then.

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u/KevinNoTail May 24 '22

Isn't Andromeda galaxy crashing into us in 4 billion years, too?
Hoping for reincarnation so I can see the light show

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u/CletusDSpuckler May 24 '22

Yes, but even when that happens, it is highly likely that no two stars collide, interstellar space being so vast. Still, the new era of starbirth when the gas clouds interact should be amazing!

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u/Phormitago May 24 '22

can we postpone it til the next tuesday? i got an appointment

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u/rust5 May 24 '22

But wait! How many years have passed since he said it was 5 billion years?!

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u/FroggiJoy87 May 24 '22

5 billion + 8 minutes for us! Totally safe.

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u/in-game_sext May 24 '22

It's a trip to think that stars are just giant space heaters.

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u/Buezzi May 24 '22

space heaters.

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u/ClusterMakeLove May 25 '22

Isn't that wrong, though? I thought the sun will only convert about 10% of its hydrogen, and lose a ton more to solar winds, and shedding its outer layers as a Red Giant.

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u/sharabi_bandar May 25 '22

You are correct.

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u/Baldazar666 May 25 '22

The sun won't die when it runs out of hydrogen. It will turn into a red giant and start fusing helium. When it's done with the helium it will collapse into a white dwarf and continue to fuse heavier and heavier elements until it gets to iron at which point the fusion process will take more energy than it produces and the sun will finally die.

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u/mfb- May 25 '22

The Sun isn't heavy enough to fuse anything beyond helium to carbon and oxygen. Only much more massive stars go all the way to iron.

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u/Ray1987 May 24 '22 edited May 24 '22

Unless we either do starlifting though and remove some of the material from the Sun or we move Earth out into a farther out orbit, in only a billion years the earth will not be able to support life.

Edit: Also around that same time the moon will be completing it's escape from the Earth's gravitational pull and leave us forever. So no more tides or anything to keep the oceans from becoming stagnant. Which may also cause Jupiter's gravity to influence us more and tilt us 90° making one side of the planet constantly dark and the other one constantly facing the Sun.

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u/ivegotapenis May 25 '22

The moon is never going to escape forever. As earth's rotation is slowed by tidal forces, the tidal bulge lessens, and the moon's tidal acceleration is decreased. It would stabilize with a tidally locked Earth in about 50 billion years, except the oceans, and Earth, are going to be gone long before that.

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u/Ray1987 May 25 '22

Yes I looked up, you are correct. Can't remember where I got my info from. Probably another case of Discovery channel lying to me.

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u/SplendidPunkinButter May 24 '22

If our ancestors are still around in a billion years and they haven’t worked out how to colonize other planets yet, I’d say it just ain’t happening

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u/Preacherjonson May 24 '22

*descendants

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u/WinterSon May 24 '22

Why would they colonize their descendants?

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u/scomospoopirate May 25 '22

Space Alabama

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u/Ray1987 May 24 '22

Oh yeah if we got that long to prepare even knowing the issue this far ahead of time we don't deserve to make it out there.

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u/xxxxx420xxxxx May 24 '22

What if we were so dumb we heated up our own planet and killed everything? LOL

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u/Ray1987 May 25 '22

Well I mean the Earth's been hotter with higher CO2 in the past so if we mess up the biosphere enough to where we won't live most likely at least a handful of other things will make it through. Hopefully a billion years is long enough for them to get past our intelligence and get off of the rock.

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u/WinterSon May 24 '22

Dibs on the side not facing the sun

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u/GossipIsLove May 24 '22

How long has sun lived? I hope it has 4 billion years left.

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u/Haytheist May 24 '22

The sun is 4.6b years old but imo she doesn't look a day over 3 billion.

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u/Nymaz May 24 '22

Dude, the sun is totally hot!

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u/MarcusBuer May 24 '22

About 7~8 billion left... humanity will probably not exist by then :p

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u/Happy-Engineer May 24 '22

Immortals walk among us

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u/[deleted] May 24 '22

[removed] — view removed comment

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u/UnsolvedParadox May 25 '22

Please don’t shame the immortals among us…!

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u/Darkfire346 May 25 '22

Holy fuck, what kinda diet is that lady eating to worry about 5 million years....

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u/LittleJimmyUrine May 24 '22

If you find a way to turn hydrogen to helium that isn't fusion let me know.

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u/BenjaminWobbles May 24 '22

A little razzle dazzle, some misdirection, and some slight of hand. Ta da!

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u/shromboy May 25 '22

"Illusions Michael. A trick is what a whore does for money" -Job

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u/zlykzlyk May 24 '22

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u/crossedstaves May 24 '22

If you're juggling atoms of hydrogen you probably want very slight hands too.

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u/zlykzlyk May 25 '22

Such slight hands would make 'everything' look 'so' much bigger...

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u/mattgen88 May 24 '22

I hear gorilla glue is really good at sticking stuff together

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u/fogdukker May 24 '22

Not the clear stuff, it's shit.

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u/No_Fuel_8661 May 24 '22

Gotta add water to the surface(s).

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u/RedditAtWorkIsBad May 24 '22

Dumb question that wasn't answered by a quick google: What would happen if tritium were bombarded with neutrons? I wonder if it were possible to turn Tritium (Hydrogen-3) into Hydrogen-4, and then have a beta decay of that neutron to leave an alpha (Helium). Maybe the capture cross-section of Tritium is non-existant.

(later that day before I submitted this post(

Found this article

Key line from the abtract: "The cross section in the heretofore unexplored energy region between 7 and 14 MeV exhibits no structure, and thus no evidence for the existence of a bound fourneutron state."

Oh well!

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u/MuadDave May 24 '22

It's hard to do, but aneutronic fusion is the bestest kind of fusion.

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u/Freethecrafts May 24 '22

Lies! Carbon chain fusion is the best fusion!

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u/froggison May 24 '22

Boo, I say! Boo! The Fusion Dance invented by the Metamorans is the best kind of fusion!

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u/greenknight884 May 25 '22

Yeah but have you ever had Asian fusion?

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u/Double-oh-negro May 25 '22

What's not to love about ribeye sushi?

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u/shawncplus May 25 '22

Dumb question ... What would happen if tritium were bombarded with neutrons?

You have a very different definition of dumb question heh

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u/Truenoiz May 25 '22

They're bombing tritium/deuterium with lasers at the National Ignition Faclilty at Lawrence Livermore. I've been following it for a while now, they're making great strides:
https://lasers.llnl.gov/news/special-report-threshold-of-ignition

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u/kaenneth May 24 '22

Hydrogen gas is about $12 per kg

Helium gas is about $50 per kg

So sell 4 kilos of Hydrogen to buy 1 kilo of Helium

the free market solves everything!

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u/crossedstaves May 24 '22

Yeah but it's really hard to get that much, everytime I try to add more my scale keeps going backwards.

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u/Gandhi_of_War May 25 '22

Put the scale on the ceiling.

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u/Nisas May 25 '22

Modern problems require modern solutions.

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u/SplendidPunkinButter May 24 '22

Have your mom sit on it

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u/vinoa May 25 '22

But I wanted helium, not hoelium!

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u/Wishgrantedmoncoliss May 24 '22

Couldn't you just theoretically daltronize some fundamental electroquarks into supergluon soup, wait for some background Ω radiation to hit it just right and just kinda... shimmy your way into helium from there?

Idk I'm not a scientist...

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u/LittleJimmyUrine May 24 '22

WOAH buddy take this advanced science over to the geeks at /r/VXJunkies where they'll ACTUALLY understand this high level stuff

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u/pspahn May 24 '22

It really does sound like it would require a VX module, or more likely, an array of them.

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u/KickinBird May 24 '22

Damn.... You hit me with "daltronize" i was like welp, there's the first word i don't recognize! You might have held that together if it weren't for "electroquarks" lolol 🤦

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u/lordmycal May 24 '22

This guy didn’t even learn basic transmutation at hogwarts! What a muggle!

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u/SplendidPunkinButter May 24 '22

Have your mom sit on it

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u/Hatchz May 24 '22

Alchemy obviously

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u/Need_vagina_pix_nao May 25 '22

I can turn 6 boiled eggs into pure methane in about 30 minutes. No fusion involved.

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u/BenjaminWobbles May 24 '22

It's a trick, hydrogen is lighter than air.

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u/ryanheart93 May 24 '22

Steel is heavier than feathers.

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u/Large_Dr_Pepper May 25 '22

Can't read that sentence in anything other than his voice.

The reference.

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u/PlasticCheebus May 24 '22

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u/PM_ME_A_PLANE_TICKET May 24 '22

Why did Constantinople get the wor-

wait, shit... wrong one.

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u/BushDidN0thingWr0ng May 25 '22

The sun is more of a miasma of incandescent plasma

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u/Nisas May 25 '22

We need more songs like this. As silly as it is, mnemonic devices like songs seem to be the most effective way to drill information into our brains.

I haven't used the quadratic formula in like 10 years, but I still remember it because of a dumb little song set to "pop goes the weasel".

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u/rrauwl May 24 '22

The sequel is so beautiful and chill.

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u/gregnorz May 25 '22

So is the original EP version.

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u/Jack__Crusher May 25 '22

Saw TMBG live in SF right before Covid. They still got it.

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u/IMakeStuffUppp May 25 '22

I need that furnace in my house.

So when mom yells about how “were not heating the neighborhood!” When we leave the door open we can tell her to shove it. Because we are.

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u/creamersrealm May 25 '22

Yeah that got added to my favorites.

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u/FrankDrakman May 24 '22

There's an immense amount of energy in the huge tides in the Bay of Fundy, but it was only a few weeks ago that a successful export of power from a floating platform to the grid happened. There's a difference between knowing that the energy's there, and being able to harness it.

This has been the problem with fusion since I was in uni in the 70's. We know the power is there, but we can't keep the genie in the bottle.

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u/quokka70 May 25 '22

It's only 50 years away!

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u/Rootkit9208 May 25 '22

Fusion energy is 5-10 years away and has been since the 60's

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u/winclswept-questant May 25 '22

Not sure if you follow the news in the fusion space, but recently developed high-temperature superconducting magnets are a gamechanger that lend a lot more credibility to that 5-10 year prediction this time around. Take a look at some of the work being done at Commonwealth Fusion Systems!

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u/owl523 May 25 '22

Best bet is ITER and they wont go fully online till 2030 I think after which member states will have to build their own reactors… looking at 2040 at least I’d think.

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u/ike709 May 25 '22

With how SPARC is progressing, ARC is starting to look like a more promising design than ITER.

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u/rarebit13 May 25 '22

*Depending on government funding.

The amount of money we put towards the research for free energy which would literally transform our world (start a new golden age) and potentially solve food and climate crisis is laughably small.

Edit : in the meantime why aren't we using more nuclear by now. It's incredibly efficient and any concerns about the radioactivity leaks is something that is manageable with today's technology.

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u/Bagellord May 25 '22

Somebody needs to figure out how to make all the oligarchs piles of money off of it. Magically it'll be funded and implemented as quick as possible.

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u/Nymaz May 24 '22

And the energy in the 20,000 metric tons of coal? Originated in the sun (prehistoric trees used energy from sun to fix carbon/hydrogen->prehistoric trees became coal->coal burned to release fixed carbon/hydrogen and convert that stored sun energy into thermal). So it's all down to hydrogen fusion.

Our universe is just a hydrogen to figuring out what to do with itself.

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u/Nisas May 25 '22

Hydroelectric power is solar as well. Heat from the sun evaporates water. The water rises into the air and stores up potential energy. Then it's reclaimed as the water rains down and runs downhill.

Wind too. Heat from the sun creates pressure differentials in the atmosphere.

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u/Paddy_Tanninger May 25 '22

This sun fella sure is generous

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u/superrosie May 25 '22

“Given enough time, hydrogen begins to wonder where it came from.”

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u/ClusterMakeLove May 25 '22

The wild thing is that fusion isn't even the most efficient plausible way of generating power.

Feeding a micro black hole, assuming we're right about how they work, would turn mass into radiation with pretty much perfect efficiency.

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u/troublethemindseye May 25 '22

A hydrogen on walk about

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u/UncleDan2017 May 24 '22

Not only is the Sun doing it constantly, but it's converting around 600 million tons of Hydrogen every second into Helium.

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u/Larsnonymous May 25 '22

Your voice would sound funny on the sun.

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u/Ponyboy451 May 24 '22

If we’d just build a Dyson sphere already, problem solved. We’re just a bunch of slackers.

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u/welshmanec2 May 24 '22

Give the guy a break, he can't do that AND make all those vacuum cleaners.

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u/Ponyboy451 May 24 '22

You’re right. I was out of line. Tbf though, his vacuums suck.

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u/MazzIsNoMore May 24 '22

I hear his fans blow, too

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u/Meretan94 May 24 '22

A dyson swarm would be enough.

One layer would be enough.

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u/skeetsauce May 24 '22

Or a ring.

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u/HentaiSpirit May 25 '22

One ring to rule them all

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u/Dalmahr May 25 '22 edited May 25 '22

Pretty sure there isn't enough material in the whole galaxy to do this. The sun is pretty massive

Edit: meant solar system!

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u/Toetsenbord May 25 '22

I thi k you mean the solarsystwm, the galaxy would be the milky way wich has millions of stars. But there might be enough material though, if we are advanced anough to attempt a dyson sphere we should surely be able to make solar panels that are less than a inche thick

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u/nil_pat May 24 '22

Also, the amount of energy that hits the Earth from the Sun is like 10000 times what we use. So we can be 100% solar if we can figure out how to harness 0.001% of it. Its also wild to think about how thats only how much energy HITS Earth, doesn't account for how much it's spitting out in all other directions

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u/Nisas May 25 '22

Here's where the problems come.

Only about 15% of the earth's surface is populated. I'm going to use this as a rough metric for how much land you can theoretically put solar panels on. So start by cutting that 10000 to 1500. Our solar panels are only about 20% efficient so cut that down to 300.

Now here's where things get fuzzy. You're gonna lose a lot of efficiency from a few things. You can't orient your panels towards the sun everywhere. And it's not sunny all the time so you have to store your power inefficiently. Your panels will sustain damage over time reducing their efficiency. And probably other factors I haven't thought of. For simplicity I'll say that brings you down to 100.

So with all that in mind, you have to cover 1% of populated land with solar panels and maintain that forever. That's a big ask.

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u/thezillalizard May 25 '22

1% of populated land is covered by McDonald’s. Can’t we just put solar panels on top of them?

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u/RhinoDestiny May 25 '22

I mean, Buckminster Fuller wrote about a global power grid in Utopia Or Oblivion in 1963, there's lots of solutions that don't require battery storage.

As per solar panels, well, photovoltaic cells aren't the only means to harvest solar radiation. Molten salt installations, steam and passive updraft are among many other ways to actually harness the sun's energy.

But the biggest problem is that your math doesn't account for the fact that even pv technology is increasing in efficiency all the time.

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u/emptybagofdicks May 24 '22

... the sun won't die when all of its hydrogen is turned into helium. It will expand into a red giant and take up all of the space to where mars orbit currently is. So you could say that earth will die at that point, but not the sun. After this it will contract into a white dwarf star.

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u/chug84 May 25 '22

It will expand into a red giant and take up all of the space to where mars orbit currently is.

Current calculations barely put it at Earth's current orbit. I say current because the Earth's current orbit will not be the same in 5 billion years from now, due to planetary perturbations and the fact that the sun is actually losing mass, causing the planets orbits to actually grow ever so slightly larger. Whether or not that will save us is to be seen.

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u/Barneyk May 25 '22 edited May 25 '22

the sun won't die when all of its hydrogen is turned into helium.

When we say a star dies we mean it stops being active. Like we say humans die when their bio-physical activity stops. But their bodies still exist.

Same with the sun, it dies when the fusion stops and it's remains will be a white dwarf star. That is dead.

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u/Sheepish_conundrum May 24 '22 edited May 25 '22

this is where my brain balks a little bit. How can it continue to burn and not run out of fuel a lot earlier? I get that it is absolutely massive, relatively speaking, but the whole friggin thing is on fire :)

edit: humorous responses aside, I appreciate everyone taking their time to break it down.

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u/The_Demolition_Man May 24 '22

The Sun is in a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium. Fusion only occurs at a specific heat and pressure. Pressure comes from gravity pulling matter towards its bary center. This inward pressure is balanced by the gas pressure of the hydrogen making the Sun want to expand. The balance between these two means fusion can only occur in a small region of the Sun so only a small portion of its gas is being fused at any given time.

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u/sixty6006 May 24 '22

Had to scroll through a mountain of boring shitty jokes to get an actual answer. Cheers!

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u/He_who_bobs_beneath May 24 '22

Every second, the sun fuses about six hundred million (600,000,000) tons of hydrogen into helium. It’s been doing that for…quite a while. It also has as much mass as 333,000 Earths.

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u/Sheepish_conundrum May 24 '22

so there's no real helium shortage. we just have to send rockets to the night side and collect the helium and return.

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u/welshmanec2 May 24 '22

How are these rockets going to get back to the surface of the earth when they're full of lighter-than-air helium? You really haven't thought this through, have you?

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u/Sheepish_conundrum May 24 '22

You don't have any air in the rockets then there's nothing to be lighter than ergo it's heavier than everything.

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u/poopfeast May 24 '22

So we just need to build a contraption large enough to catch it as it falls back to earth

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u/golfgrandslam May 24 '22

Tie a rope to it and pull it back. Not really that complicated.

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u/He_who_bobs_beneath May 24 '22

Yup, just gotta sneak up behind him and grab it when he’s not looking.

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u/AnarkittenSurprise May 24 '22

That's the neat part, it's actually not on fire at all!

Just a big ball of gas crunching hydrogen into helium and generating a ton of heat energy and light while doing it.

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u/hulkmxl May 24 '22

You mean there's no oxygen to burn, therefore no fire as we know it? Just a massive amount of extremely hot matter in a plasma state being splashed around?

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u/AnarkittenSurprise May 24 '22 edited May 24 '22

There's definitely a little bit of oxygen in the sun, along with a scattering of a bunch of other elements, but not much of it.

Yes to the rest though! Fire is a very specific chemical reaction that is not occurring in the sun. It's a fusion reaction fueled by fusing atoms that are squished together in the high pressured core.

Multiple smaller elements are combined into one single atom, with the excess mass being released as energy. That's where all your heat is coming from.

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u/[deleted] May 25 '22

It’s still kinda crazy to imagine it can keep doing this for so long. Some stars are even older and bigger, and burn more material than our minds can comprehend in a single second, for billions of years.

And we get tired after 3 minutes of cardio.

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u/VeryVeryNiceKitty May 24 '22

It is not on fire. Actually, per square meter the sun only outputs about as much energy as a compost heap.

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u/phunkydroid May 24 '22

I think you meant per cubic meter it generates as much as a compost heap. Per square meter, which would only make sense if talking about the surface, it puts out much more than that. Just think how many cubic meters are below each square meter of surface...

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u/FizzyBns May 24 '22

Depends what you've been putting on your compost heap

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u/redtiber May 24 '22

i put a smaller sun in my compost heap

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u/mildly_amusing_goat May 24 '22

The power of manure, in the palm of my hand.

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u/Nyanek May 24 '22

last evenings taco bell

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u/MuadDave May 24 '22

Want to really blow your mind? It takes anywhere from 5000 to a million years for energy generated at the center of the sun to reach the surface. It only takes 8.3 minutes to reach the earth from there.

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u/KickinBird May 24 '22

Yeah this definitely one of the big boy mindfucks, to me at least. After trying to wrap your head around how unfathomably far away the fucker is, that even for how big it is, zooming out enough to see it in one same window renders it a tiny dot at the center.

And then it's like, oh yeah btw when you actually look at it, the light is takibg as much as a MILLION YEARS to escape, then 8min to get to us. Fuckin hell

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u/Nietzschemouse May 24 '22

It's just really big

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u/Nymaz May 24 '22

In fact, it's the second most massive object in the solar system. From least to most mass in our solar system:

  1. Comets, asteroids, transNeptunian objects

  2. Planets and moons

  3. The sun

  4. Your mama

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u/Thompson_S_Sweetback May 24 '22

The amount of hydrogen turned into helium in a 24-hour period weighs about the same as the Empire State Building.

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u/pedanticPandaPoo May 24 '22

Think about how quickly a match burns, and then how much longer a log burns. More fuel takes a lot longer to burn. The sun's got a lotta fuel.

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u/fishsupreme May 25 '22

The thing is, the answer genuinely is "it's really, really, really big."

It's not actually on fire at all -- there's no oxygen or other oxidizers, and it's all plasma anyway, so it can't burn, no matter how hot it gets. It's just undergoing nuclear fusion.

The sun is, obviously, very hot. But on a per-unit-volume basis it's not actually producing much heat! The core of the sun, where fusion is happening, produces about 17 watts per cubic meter of heat. By comparison, you produce around 14 watts per cubic meter. It's not that much heat! So it doesn't actually need to burn much fuel.

The reason the average is so low is that most of the sun's plasma isn't in exactly the right conditions for fusion. There's a comparatively small part of the solar core where the great majority of the fusion happens. The rest is just sitting there, storing heat, being hot.

But it adds up because if there's one thing the sun has a lot of, it's cubic meters of sun -- around 1.4x1027 of them. The plasma and the hard vacuum around the sun is a great insulator, too, so that heat stays inside -- it takes 5,000-1,000,000 years for the heat at the middle to reach the outside.

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u/eric987235 May 24 '22

If only we could figure out how to do this on earth :-(

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u/redwall_hp May 24 '22

We know how to do it. The only thing missing is the engineering to actually achieve it, which is deadlocked by a lack of funding, because the world is run by morons.

The US spends more money building a single ship than investing in fusion research.

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u/Brickwater May 25 '22

I, for one, boycott the sun.

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u/DarkmatterHypernovae May 25 '22

Cancel the Sun! All in say ‘Aye’!

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u/IveBangedYourMomm May 24 '22

Nuclear energy is the way. Not solar. Not wind.

Lot of misconceptions about it have made people irrationally fearful

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u/im_totally_working May 24 '22

Nuclear is the answer. So is wind. So is solar. So is geothermal. So is wave capture. So is hydroelectric. So are the technologies that have yet to be invented. It takes a diversified and cooperative approach. Not all the eggs in one basket, so to speak.

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u/Sachifoo May 24 '22

Not all the eggs in one basket, so to speak.

As a person who works in the Nuclear R&D Industry, I agree with this message.

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u/mrgreyeyes May 24 '22

So you are saying that to risk all one has on the success or failure of one thing, leading to wars with countries that have a chokehold on your energy supply is avoidable? But that requires people to not look beyond their greed and act in the best interest of humanity. I hope these leaders are already born, because the current dictating generation is doing to opposite.

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u/tyler1128 May 24 '22

Nuclear fusion energy is fundamentally different than fission, and much stronger. As of today, we do not have any fusion plant even particularly close to being able to sustain a net production of energy. Fission is still important, I agree with you, though if we achieve it to a large scale, fusion is the "holy grail" of terrestrial energy production.

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u/italia06823834 May 24 '22 edited May 24 '22

As of today, we do not have any fusion plant even particularly close to being able to sustain a net production of energy.

Fusion research, for years and years, also receives only a relatively tiny amount of funding, and the amount is significantly down compared to 30-40 years ago.

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u/throwaway_ghast May 24 '22

Chernobyl and Three Mile Island really damaged the image of nuclear energy in the eyes of the public. Which is sad since modern nuclear plants are some of the cleanest and most reliable sources of energy, especially compared to coal.

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u/wPatriot May 24 '22

Or they'll be like "look at what happened at Fukushima" and I just can't do anything beyond shake my head anymore. Like, I don't get that level of miscomprehension.

A decade old plant was hit - practically simultaneously - by two record breaking natural disasters causing exactly zero deaths. Yet this scared some people so immensely that it set back nuclear progress decades.

Seriously. We need nuclear and we need it yesterday but instead we're moving away from it.

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u/Freyas_Follower May 25 '22

It wasn't even the plant that failed. It was the seawall itself, which hadn't been upgraded like experts recommended. Water came over the seawall, and flooded generators in the basement, both of which were repeatedly exposed to the Japanese government. It was easily preventable, which is a LOT of the problem. The government and the power plant just didn't want to prevent it.

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u/redwall_hp May 24 '22

More money is spent on a single fucking fighter jet or naval ship than on fusion research. Investment levels in real scientific research are a disgrace.

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u/italia06823834 May 24 '22

It really is absurd. Possibly one of our best energy source options and it is like an afterthought.

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u/CamelSpotting May 25 '22

ITER will end up costing $50 or so billion, or roughly 4 aircraft carriers. Not bad, but nothing like cold war budgets.

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u/foolandhismoney May 24 '22

I already gave up plastic straws, so I’m ready to hand over the baton to the next generation.

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u/jimbolikescr May 24 '22

Yeah and that is purposely done by gas electric companies

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u/OutsmartBullet May 24 '22

Which one is it? This post is about a comically large, free nuclear reactor that weve currently used for checks notes all life on earth

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u/Agisek May 25 '22

I agree with you about the misconceptions and that nuclear is good. You're completely wrong about renewables though.

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u/lettersgohere May 24 '22

The sun is doing what? All this time I thought it was just some dude from Greece driving his chariot across the sky.

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u/burn-babies-burn May 24 '22

I think the terminology around tons is confusing. Tons or tonnes or Metric tons, imperial tons, long tons, short tons… it’s too much.

That’s why, from now own, I’m using the scientific convention and calling it a Megagram. It’s better this way.

Turning one Kilogram of hydrogen into helium releases the same energy as burning 20 Gigagrams of coal.