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Why does the sun burn in space when there is no oxygen?

Why does the sun burn in space when there is no oxygen?
Ben Harris from Hampshire (Aged 5-14)

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2 Responses

  1. That’s a very astute question and the answer really lies in our poor use of words. We normally use the word “burn” to mean “react with oxygen to produce heat” or the like. However, in the case of the sun, it is an entirely different process producing the heat and light.

    The sun takes atoms of hydrogen, the lightest element there is, and fuses them together to turn them into atoms of helium – slightly heavier atoms. In doing this, it creates a lot of energy so the process is often, huhelpfully, refered to as the sun burning.

  2. The normal burning you are thinking about is chemical–i.e., when would burns, it is nothing but a reaction of (mainly) Carbon and Hydrogen with Oxygen.
    The Sun doesn’t actually burn, even though it is much hotter than a fire. What happens is that energy, in the form of heat, is produced by a process called nuclear fusion. A large part of the sun is made up of Hydrogen, and what happens is that through many steps four Hydrogen nuclei turn into a Helium nucleus (plus some other stuff), releasing quite a bit of energy, thus heating the sun. The sun thus burn nucelar fuel, which does not require oxygen.

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