DAVID PARKER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY DAVID PARKER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
The triple-alpha process is a set of nuclear fusion reactions by which three helium-4 nuclei (alpha particles) are transformed into carbon. The triple alpha process is highly dependent on carbon-12 and beryllium-8 having resonances with the same energy as helium-4, and before 1952, no such energy levels were known. Because the triple-alpha process is unlikely, it needs a long time to produce much carbon. One consequence of this is that no significant amount of carbon was produced in the Big Bang because within minutes after the Big Bang, the temperature fell below the critical point for nuclear fusion. This creates a situation in which stellar nucleosynthesis produces large amounts of carbon and oxygen but only a small fraction of these elements is converted into neon and heavier elements.
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