Carbon Life: Triple-Alpha Reaction Inside Stars May Be Much Faster Than Thought

Carbon Life: Triple-Alpha Reaction Inside Stars May Be Much Faster Than Thought

Nearly all of the atoms that make up the our planet and us were forged in stars and the carbon most important to life as we know it was made by the triple-alpha process. The process starts with alpha particles, cores of helium atoms, with each alpha particle is made up of two protons and two neutrons. That Hoyle state can split back into three alpha particles or relax to the ground state of stable carbon by releasing gamma rays. That Hoyle state can split back into three alpha particles or relax to the ground state of stable carbon by releasing a couple gamma rays (center). Inside supernovae, however, the creation of stable carbon can be enhanced with the help of extra protons (right).

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