Fusion is the process at the core of our Sun. What we see as light and feel as warmth is the result of a fusion reaction: hydrogen nuclei collide, fuse into heavier helium atoms and release tremendous amounts of energy in the process.The gravitational forces at play in the Universe have created the perfect conditions for fusion. Over billions of years, these forces caused the hydrogen clouds of the early Universe to gather into massive stellar bodies. In the extreme density and temperature of their cores, fusion occurs.
How does fusion produce energy?
Atoms never rest: the hotter they are, the faster they move. In the core of our Sun, temperatures reach 15,000,000° Celsius. Hydrogen atoms are in a constant state of agitation, colliding at very great speeds. The natural electrostatic repulsion that exists between the positive charges of their nuclei is overcome, and the atoms fuse. The fusion of light hydrogen atoms (H-H) produces a heavier element, helium.The mass of the resulting helium atom is not the exact sum of the two initial atoms, however—some mass has been lost and great amounts of energy have been gained. This is what Einstein’s formula E=mc² describes: the tiny bit of lost mass (m), multiplied by the square of the speed of light (c²), results in a very large figure (E), which is the amount of energy created by a fusion reaction.Every second, our Sun turns 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium, releasing an enormous amount of energy. But without the benefit of gravitational forces at work in our Universe, achieving fusion on Earth has required a different approach.