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Q & A: burning in the sun

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Most recent answer: 10/12/2009
Q:
I keep getting told that there's no oxygen in space and I keep arguing that anything needs oxygen to burn. The sun is a giant ball of BURNING gases, so how does the sun get the oxygen to burn?
- Catherine (age 10)
Urbandale, Iowa, United States of America
A:
Nice question.

The type of 'burning' in the sun is not chemical burning, the combination of other chemicals with oxygen. It's nuclear burning, in this case the fusion of the nuclei of light elements.  (The nuclei are the massive centers of atoms.) Ordinary chemistry leaves nuclei unchanged, just rearranging the electrons that surround the nuclei. So no oxygen is involved in the sun's nuclear fusion.

Mike W. 

(published on 10/12/2009)

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