Stars fuse hydrogen atoms into helium atoms in what's called the proton-proton chain. A normal hydrogen atom becomes a helium atom and releases a lot of energy in this process. If you are interested in the more complex physics of stars,
a proton (positively charged)
a neutron (like a proton, but has no charge)
a positron (antimatter, like an electron, but positively charged)
a neutrino (subatomic particle, no charge, very low mass)
a gamma ray (a form of radiation)
Step 1 --
1H + 1H = 2H + e+ + ν
Two normal hydrogen atoms collide and produce a heavy hydrogen atom (deuterium), a positiron (the inverse of an electron), and a neutrino.
Step 2 --
1H + 2H = 3He + γ
A normal hydrogen atom collides with a deuterium atom and produces a light helium atom and gamma radiation.
Step 3 --
3He + 3He = 4He + 1H + 1H
Two light helium atoms collide and produce a normal helium atom and two normal hydrogen atoms.
The Whole Shebang --
6 1H = 4He + 2 1H + 2 e+ + 2 ν + 2 γ
One complete fusion reaction takes six normal hydrogen atoms, and spits out a normal helium atom, two normal hydrogen atoms, two positrons, two neutrinos, and gamma radiation.
For every complete fusion reaction 4.3 x 10-12 joules of energy is produced. "But when multiplied by the vast number of hydrogen atoms undergoing fusion in the sun, the total energy released is equivalent to exploding 100-billion megaton H-bombs per second!" Explorations (Thomas Arny)
*Images created by Tiara Norris, August 2004.
Website last updated March 16, 2006. Hosted by Anthony Watts, KMXI Radio. Webmasters Tiara Norris and Brendan Diamond.