Birthing Stars

Fusion.  The recent breakthrough with fusion announced so close to Christmas hardly seems a coincidence to me.  I have to admit to having been interested in fusion since high school.  One of my school term papers was on what was then called a “magnetic bottle”—a theoretical device capable of containing a fusion reaction.  The hydrogen bomb, of course, had already demonstrated that fusion was possible.  Controlling it was, at the time, the difficulty.  Now, I’m no scientist.  I’ve read quite a bit of lay science over the years and even worked on a project about the relationship of science to religion.  Still, you can’t follow everything.  I’d lost contact with fusion until the announcement this week that scientists have finally demonstrated that it’s possible to get more energy out of a controlled fusion reaction than it takes to get the reaction started.

In case you know even less about science than I do, fusion is what powers stars.  Unlike fission, it’s a “clean” nuclear reaction and one, as far as we can tell, that has made life possible on this planet.  Star power.  We’ve known for many decades that this could be the solution to humanity’s energy needs.  Of course, big petroleum has tried to slow such research down—there are personal fortunes to be lost and what is life without a fortune?  Now, with technology far beyond my comprehension, a fusion reaction was born that showed promise that we’re on the right track.

Photo credit: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

Since it’s been rather gloomy around here this December, the thought of more sunshine cheers me.  Living in the Lehigh Valley, of course, my thoughts turn toward the Bethlehem star.  It’s such a crucial element to the Christmas story that we’d hardly know what to do without it.  Stars are our guides through the dark.  Winter nights are often clear and are opportunities to see the nighttime stars, even as we light up our artificial ones here below.  Light encourages light.  In a laboratory somewhere scientists are busy making stars.  I have to believe it’s satisfying work.  Perhaps the kind of job you’re eager to get back to the day after Christmas.  Although fusion would be used for power in general, one of the functions would surely be the giving of light.  As we move toward next week’s solstice and light our Yule logs, encouraging light to return, women and men in white smocks are designing and using complex equipment to help it on its way.

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