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RHYS LEWIS, AHS, DECD, UNISA / EQUINOX GRAPHICS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY RHYS LEWIS, AHS, DECD, UNISA / EQUINOX GRAPHICS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Proton-proton nuclear fusion. Animation showing the mechanism of the simplest nuclear fusion reaction between two protons (the nuclei of hydrogen atoms). This is part of the proton-proton chain reaction that powers stars such as the Sun. The ultimate product is helium, but only the first stage of the reaction is shown here, producing the nuclei of heavier isotopes of hydrogen. Two protons (red) are forced together under high pressure, such as found in the core of a star, overcoming the electromagnetic repulsion between them. The strong nuclear force then takes over, binding the two protons together. The animation shows the quarks (two up quarks ['u'] and one down quark ['d']). The result is a diproton (helium-2) and a gamma ray (not shown). The diproton then decays via a process known as beta-plus decay or positron emission. One of the protons turns into a neutron (yellow) and a positron (an antielectron, yellow flare) is produced, along with a neutrino (red glow). The end product is a nucleus of deuterium (hydrogen-2). Further nuclear fusion reactions (not shown) between deuterium and protons produces helium-4.
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