Thermonuclear Ignition of Stars and the Nature of
Stellar ignition, or star ignition, the lighting of stars,
pertains to the initiation of the nuclear fusion reactions that are thought to
power the Sun and other stars.
At the beginning of the 20th century, understanding the
nature of the energy source that powers the Sun and other stars was one of the
most important problems in physical science. Initially, the idea was that as the
dust and gas collapsed to form a star, it would heat. In other words,
gravitational potential energy would be converted into heat. Soon, however,
calculations were made showing that the energy released would only be sufficient
to power a star for a few million years at most and certainly life has existed
on Earth for a longer time. The discovery of radioactivity, especially
thermonuclear fusion , and the developments that followed led to the idea
that thermonuclear fusion reactions power the Sun and other stars [2, 3].
Thermonuclear fusion reactions are called “thermonuclear”
because temperatures on the order of a million degrees Celsius are required. The
principal energy released from the detonation of hydrogen bombs comes from
thermonuclear fusion reactions. The high temperatures necessary to ignite H-bomb
thermonuclear fusion reactions comes from their A-bomb nuclear fission triggers.
Each hydrogen bomb is ignited by its own small nuclear fission A-bomb.
By 1938, the idea of thermonuclear fusion reactions as the
energy source for stars had been reasonably well developed by Hans Bethe,
pictured at right, and by others. But at that time nuclear fission
had not yet been discovered . At the time, physicists, just assumed that the
million-degree-temperatures necessary for stellar thermonuclear ignition would
be produced by the in-fall of dust and gas during star formation.
continued to make the same assumption to the present, although clearly there have
been signs of potential trouble with the concept. Heating by the in-fall of dust
and gas is takes place at the surface of the forming star. This heating is
off-set by radiation from the surface, which is a function of the fourth power
of temperature, in other words, T times T times T times T, which for T =
1,000,000 becomes a huge loss factor.
Generally, in numerical models of protostellar collapse,
thermonuclear ignition temperatures, on the order of a million degrees Celsius,
are not attained by the gravitational in-fall of matter without assumption of an
additional shockwave induced sudden flare-up [5, 6] or by result-optimizing the
model-parameters, such as opacity and rate of in-fall .
After demonstrating the feasibility for planetocentric nuclear
fission reactors [8, 9], including Earth’s georeactor, J. Marvin
Herndon, pictured at left, proposed that thermonuclear fusion
reactions in stars, as in hydrogen bombs, are ignited by
self-sustaining, neutron induced, nuclear fission .
is fundamentally different in that heating takes place at the proto-star center,
not at the surface where heat loss occurs. Moreover, the ability of nuclear
fission reactions to ignite thermonuclear fusion reactions has been
experimentally verified with each successful hydrogen bomb detonation, as
pictured at right.
that stars are ignited by nuclear fission triggers opens the possibility of
stellar non-ignition, a concept which may have fundamental implications bearing
on the nature of dark matter  and much, much more.
The old idea about stellar ignition by heat produced during
gravitational collapse developed before nuclear fission was discovered and no
one, for more than six decades, until Herndon , thought to question the
concept. It is well to recall that science is a logical process, not a
democratic process. New ideas begin with a single individual and then diffuse,
sometimes slowly, throughout the scientific community. The idea that natural
fusion reactions are ignited by natural fission reactions is a fundamentally new
and revolutionary concept with profound astrophysical implications.
Oliphant, M. L., Harteck, P., and Rutherford E., Transmutation effects observed
with heavy hydrogen.Nature, 1934, 133, 413.
Gamow, G. and E. Teller, The rate of
selective thermonuclear reactions.Physical Review, 1938, 53, 608-609.
Bethe, H. A.,
Energy production in stars.
Review, 1939, 55(5), 434-456.
Hahn, O. and Strassmann, F.,
Uber den Nachweis und das Verhalten der
bei der Bestrahlung des Urans mittels Neutronen entstehenden
Erdalkalimetalle. Die Naturwissenschaften, 1939, 27, 11-15.
Hayashi, C. and Nakano,
T, Thermal and dynamic
properties of a protostar and its contraction to the stage of
quasi-static equilibrium.Progress in Theoretical Physics, 1965, 35,
Larson, R. B.,
Gravitational torques and star formation.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1984, 206,
Stahler, S. W.,
The early evolution of protostellar disks.
Astrophysical Journal, 1994, 431, 341-358.
Herndon, J. M., Nuclear fission reactors
as energy sources for the giant outer planets.Naturwissenschaften, 1992, 79, 7-14.
Herndon, J. M., Feasibility of a nuclear fission
reactor at the center of the Earth as the energy source for the
geomagnetic field.Journal of
Geomagnetism and Geoelectricity, 1993, 45, 423-437.
(click here for pdf)
Herndon, J. M., Planetary and
protostellar nuclear fission: Implications for planetary change, stellar
ignition and dark matter. Proceedings of theRoyal Society of
London, 1994, A455, 453-461. (click here