Research by an undergraduate chemistry student at the University of Missouri-Rolla may shed new light on where the Sun gets its energy.
The research, published in the Journal of Fusion Energy, confirms that neutron repulsion is an energy source on the Sun, and may in fact be the major source of energy for most solar power.
The study shows that neutron emission from the Sun may release up to three times as much energy as hydrogen fusion. The paper also supports a UMR chemistry professor’s claims that the Sun may have formed from the collapsed core of a supernova.
"Neutron emission in the core of the Sun may trigger a series of reactions that collectively produce the Sun’s luminosity and an outpouring of protons and neutrinos from its surface," writes Erin Miller of of Weskan, Kan., a sophomore chemistry major at UMR. Miller co-authored the paper, titled "Neutron Repulsion Confirmed As Energy Source," with Dr. Oliver Manuel, professor of chemistry at UMR, and Aditya Katragada, a graduate student in UMR’s chemistry department.
A neutron is one of the fundamental particles that makes up matter. Neutrons act like tiny bar magnets, which can repel one another as do the like ends of two magnets. In their paper, Miller and her colleagues examine the properties of all 2,850 known nuclides (atoms) "to see how the potential energy from interactions between neutrons in the nucleus compares with that generated by the well-known repulsive interactions between positive charges in the nucleus."
The researchers found that the interactions between neutrons "increase the potential energy" and, comparing the energy to that created by positive charges, determined that neutron repulsion "may represent a major source of energy if the Sun formed on the collapsed core of a supernova and neutron-emission from its core triggers a series of reactions that generate luminosity, solar neutrinos, and an outflow of hydrogen in the solar wind."
The fraction of mass converted to energy through neutron repulsion is greater than for uranium fission or hydrogen fusion, the next greatest known sources of energy," says Manuel, who is a nuclear chemist. He adds that neutron repulsion generates more than half of the Sun’s energy.
The notion that the Sun formed on the collapsed core of a supernova was introduced by Manuel in earlier papers. Manuel believes a supernova rocked our area of the Milky Way galaxy some five billion years ago, giving birth to all the heavenly bodies that populate the solar system. But the theory goes against the widely-held belief among astrophysicists that the sun and planets were formed 4.5 billion years ago in a relatively ambiguous cloud of interstellar dust.
The paper is dedicated to James-Alan Holt Powers of Richland, Mo., a former UMR nuclear engineering student who died unexpectedly in 2001. He was from Dixon, Mo., and is called in the paper "a student of exceptional talent who entered this university on his 14th birthday from home-schooling" and "was captivated by the information contained in the cradle of the nuclides," one portion of the research discussed in the paper. He died soon after his 17th birthday.