Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:
TRIPLE ALPHA PROCESS
Earlier this week, we took a look at the puzzle game Fe , in which you fuse atomic nuclei together and try to produce the isotope iron 56. Today, I’m going to teach you one of the basic moves you’ll have to learn in order to win this game. It’s called the triple alpha process.
First, you’ll have to create three helium nuclei, specifically the isotope labeled helium 4. Helium 4 plays a special role in nuclear physics where it is often called the “alpha particle.” If it didn’t have that “alpha” name, I guess we’d be talking about the triple helium process today.
Once you’ve created your helium, fuse two of them together to make beryllium 8. You’ll notice that beryllium 8 is marked with a little, green number. That number indicates that you’ve created an unstable isotope. You have only six turns before it undergoes radioactive decay and turns back into helium.
Before your beryllium decays, quickly fuse it with your third helium 4 nucleus. This will produce carbon 12. You can relax now. Carbon 12 is stable, and you have plenty of time to figure out what you’re supposed to do with it. You’re now well on your way toward winning Fe .
P.S.: This is the way carbon is actually made in the hearts of stars. Two helium nuclei (or alpha particles) fuse together to make beryllium 8. If a third helium nucleus shows up quickly enough, it can turn that beryllium into carbon; if not, the beryllium will rapidly disintegrate.
P.P.S.: See, Mom, I told you video games can be educational!