What is the heaviest element that a star will fuse?

In summary, the conversation discusses the production of elements in stars through nuclear fusion. While some sources claim that iron is the heaviest element produced in large quantities, others argue that nickel may be the highest. It is noted that nickel-56 decays into cobalt and then iron, but it is unclear if this process occurs in the core of a star. The conversation also briefly touches on the production of heavier elements through high energy collisions and the role of supernovae in creating these elements. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the energy released during fusion reactions and the limited amount of hydrogen left in the core of a star by the time iron is formed.
  • #1
Aizen
4
1
Is Iron the heaviest element a star will fuse through nuclear fusion or will it continue to Iron into a heavier element.
 
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  • #2
I was under the impression that the highest mass element produced in large quantities was nickel-56. However, I keep finding conflicting information from various sources. Some say iron is the highest and some say nickel. I haven't yet found a good source that explains things in any real detail. I'll let you know if I do.
 
  • #3
Drakkith said:
I was under the impression that the highest mass element produced in large quantities was nickel-56. However, I keep finding conflicting information from various sources. Some say iron is the highest and some say nickel. I haven't yet found a good source that explains things in any real detail. I'll let you know if I do.
Nickel 56 decays into cobalt, then iron.
 
  • #4
PAllen said:
Nickel 56 decays into cobalt, then iron.

True, but does nickel have time to do so in the core of a star?
 
  • #5
PAllen said:
Nickel 56 decays into cobalt, then iron.
Going on that notion what woudl the chronological order to element fusion be? (i.e. Hydrogen to Helium, Helium to Carbon etc.)
 
  • #6
Drakkith said:
True, but does nickel have time to do so in the core of a star?
The half lives are both relatively short ( < 7 days, < 80 days). Whether energy/density conditions in a stellar core modify this, I am not sure. Since iron-56 makes up a large majority of planetary iron, I assume most comes from decay of nickel 56 produced in stars.
 
  • #7
What I'm curious about is not whether the theoretical end is Fe or not, but to which extend heavier elements are built, simply as an incidental byproduct of high energy collisions.
 
  • #8
Aizen said:
Is Iron the heaviest element a star will fuse through nuclear fusion or will it continue to Iron into a heavier element.
The star kills itself when it creates iron, after which it creates many of the heavier elements when it goes supernova; search up 'r-process'.
 
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  • #9
PAllen said:
The half lives are both relatively short ( < 7 days, < 80 days). Whether energy/density conditions in a stellar core modify this, I am not sure. Since iron-56 makes up a large majority of planetary iron, I assume most comes from decay of nickel 56 produced in stars.

Yes, iron-56 comes from the decay of nickel-56 (actually cobalt-56, which decays to iron-56), but I don't know how long it takes for enough nickel/cobalt/iron to build up in the core to trigger a collapse and supernova.
 
  • #10
upload_2017-1-17_16-53-43.png

http://www.physics.smu.edu/scalise/quarknet2008/FewellAJP000653.pdf
Page 656
Seems like mostly iron in the core. A higher temperature is need to produce nickel, but then that higher temperature disintegrates iron faster than nickel production.
Comments?
 
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  • #11
Enormous energy is needed to fuse iron or any heavier elements - hence most are formed by supernovae which do have sufficient energy for such processes.
 
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  • #12
Get a chart of isotopic masses and relative abundances, like

https://www.ncsu.edu/chemistry/msf/pdf/IsotopicMass_NaturalAbundance.pdf

and you can work it out for yourself. For example, a star fuses 4 atoms of hydrogen 1, 4 times 1.007825 = 4.0323
to get 1 atom of Helium 4, mass 4.002603, and releases
4.0323 -4.002603 = 0.029697 units of energy.

Try fusing 1 atom of hydrogen 1, 1.007825, to 1 unit of Iron 56, 55.934942
to get Iron 57 with mass of 56.935399, and the star releases
1.007825 + 55.934943 - 56.935399= 0.0073681 units of energy.

Try fusing 1 atom of carbon 12, 12..00000 , to 1 unit of Iron 56, 55.934942
to get zinc 68, and the star gets
12.0000 +55.934942 - 67.924848= minus 0. 01.0094 units of energy.

If there were still hydrogen in the core, a star could still gain a little energy by fusing Iron and Hydrogen to get NIckel, but by the time Iron has formed, there's a negligible amount of unfused Hydrogen left in the core. All the minus unit energy elements are produced only in a supernova.
 

What is the heaviest element that a star will fuse?

The heaviest element that a star can fuse is iron.

What determines the heaviest element a star can fuse?

The mass of a star determines the heaviest element it can fuse. The more massive a star is, the higher the temperatures and pressures at its core, allowing for heavier elements to fuse.

What is the process of fusion in stars?

Fusion is the process of two or more atomic nuclei combining to form a heavier nucleus. In stars, this process occurs due to high temperatures and pressures in the core, causing hydrogen atoms to fuse together and form heavier elements.

What happens when a star fuses iron?

When a star fuses iron, it is no longer able to generate energy and begins to collapse. This collapse can lead to a supernova explosion.

Can stars fuse elements heavier than iron?

Yes, in rare cases, stars with extremely high masses can fuse elements heavier than iron, such as uranium. However, these stars are short-lived and eventually explode in a supernova.

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