How Do Stars Produce And Release Energy?

To many of us, a star is a thing of magic and beauty. We look up at a pitch-black sky and it is lit up with billions of tiny sparkling lights that are light-years away from us, dancing across their blank canvas.

Although we think of stars as being magical, they are vigorously studied by scientists all across the world, and we are finding out new information about them every day. 

Stars are formed from gases being pulled together by gravity and once the center becomes dense enough, sometimes around 10 million degrees, stars are formed under intense pressure. Once the star is formed, it repeatedly fuses hydrogen and helium in the center which releases a lot of energy that keeps the star going for billions of years.

We always associate stars with being pretty and, quite literally, out of this world, but we aren’t able to explain anything more about them. We shy away from space science because it is, again, quite literally, rocket science and we feel like we won’t understand it. Well, we’re wrong, because we are all capable of understanding basic space science. Especially when the subject is as beautiful as the stars. 

Sit back, relax, and prepare to open up your mind to the world of stars.

How Do Stars Form? 

Stars are formed within clouds of dust that become large masses that eventually cause the collapse of gas and dust. As the dust cloud collapses, the center of the mass begins to heat up. This is known as a protostar, where the part of the mass that is heating up is what will eventually become the star. 

How Do Stars Continue To Produce Energy?

Stars produce energy from nuclear fusion, where the hydrogen and helium are packed so tightly into the core of the star that there is enough pressure to generate a nuclear reaction. This is how a star continues to produce energy until there is no fuel left to ignite a nuclear reaction. 

Before a star is formed, gas and dust contract and reach up to 15 million degrees which causes a huge amount of pressure inside the gas and dust ball. Plasma forms and the build-up of pressure causes the nuclei inside the plasma to fuse, which then produces energy for the star to live. 

What Happens During Nuclear Fusion? 

Nuclear fusion happens when hydrogen atoms fuse together to form helium, which is then converted into energy, and the hydrogen gets heated to a very high temperature to then become plasma. After the hydrogen changes from a gas into a liquid, the positive and negative nuclei are separated from each other. 

The nuclei are able to overcome the electrostatic forces as the temperature increases, which then causes the ions to move at such a high speed that they crash into each other to create nuclear fusion. As the nuclei fuse together, energy is released. 

How Do Stars Release Their Energy? 

Releasing energy is what keeps the star’s gravity from collapsing, as a star dies when there is no longer a balance and no more energy left to burn. During the nuclear fusion in the core of the star, so much energy is produced that it ends up pouring out of the core, which then sets up the outward pressure that balances the inward gravitational pull.

When the energy released reaches the outer layer of the star, it begins to move as electromagnetic radiation. This then causes the star to shine. 

Can Stars Explode?

When a star explodes, it is called a supernova. A supernova can occur in 2 ways, but they are impossible to see from Earth as dust blocks our vision of the supernova. A supernova happens when there is a change to the center of the star, which can happen when a star has too much energy inside its core. 

Binary star systems are when 2 stars orbit the same point, and this can result in a supernova. A carbon-oxygen white dwarf star will steal matter from the other orbiting star and accumulate too much energy. After the white dwarf has too much energy, it will explode, causing a supernova. 

A supernova can also occur when a star has run out of fuel and some of its mass enters the core. Once the mass has entered the core, the core becomes too heavy for the star to withstand. As the core becomes too heavy, eventually the core collapses, which creates a supernova.

What Happens When A Star Dies? 

When a star runs out of energy to burn, it will become a white dwarf, otherwise known as a dead star. If a star has a similar mass to the Sun, it will more than likely become a white dwarf. 

The outer layers of gas become lost and as the white dwarf can no longer burn any fuel in its core, it begins to cool. As the white dwarf cools, it will no longer be visible on the spectrum as it won’t produce any heat or electromagnetic radiation.

Once the white dwarf is completely cooled, it becomes a black dwarf. There are currently no black dwarfs detected as the time that is needed to become a black dwarf is longer than the age of the universe. 

Final Thoughts

To conclude, stars are constantly producing and releasing energy in order to stay alive. When a star runs out of fuel to produce energy, there is no energy left to burn which results in the star becoming a white dwarf, and eventually a black dwarf. However, stars are able to live for billions of years so there is no danger in a star running out of energy quickly. 

Stars produce their energy during nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion sounds like a very complicated term, but as you can see above, it isn’t impossible to understand. Nuclear fusion occurs when the nuclei from the hydrogen and the helium fuse together, which allows the star to produce and release energy.

A star is able to explode from having too much energy, which is called a supernova. A supernova often occurs when a white dwarf has taken too much energy from another star, which results in an explosion. Although we aren’t able to see supernova’s with a naked eye on Earth, there are lots of images where you can clearly see what happens during a supernova. 

When stars run out of fuel to burn, they become white dwarfs and eventually black dwarfs. The stars will begin to cool as there is no way for them to burn any energy so they begin to fade. Scientists have been able to identify white dwarfs, but there are yet to be any black dwarfs detected due to the length of time that the cooling process takes for white dwarfs to become black dwarfs. 

Finally, understanding the different stages of a star’s life can be daunting, especially when you are not totally clued up on all of the scientific languages. Don’t let that stop you from learning! Stars are the most beautiful sights, so why not find out more about them. The process that a star undergoes to shine is incredibly fascinating, and the reason that they shine is down to producing and releasing energy.

Gordon Watts