Saturday, February 20, 2021

Hydrogen: The Most Abundant Element in the Universe

12:34 AM | , ,

Discover the role of hydrogen

Hydrogen reigns supreme as the most abundant element in the universe, constituting a staggering 73% of all visible matter. Helium follows closely, making up 25% of the universe's matter, leaving a mere 2% for all other elements. The universe's landscape would be vastly different if hydrogen wasn't the dominant element, given it's the primary element in stars and the predecessor of all other elements.

Originating from the simplest form, hydrogen emerged from the Big Bang nearly 13.8 billion years ago when energy condensed into the first subatomic particles like electrons and quarks. As quarks grouped in trios, the first protons and neutrons were born, leading to the birth of hydrogen within the universe's first minute. In the universe's early days, the high temperatures allowed hydrogen nuclei to fuse, creating small amounts of helium and lithium, but the rest of the periodic table was still to come into existence.

Stars, despite their wide-ranging sizes, colors, and masses, all share a common genesis. Large hydrogen gas clouds cluster together, leading to a spike in temperatures and pressures. When temperatures surpass ten-million degrees Kelvin, hydrogen undergoes nuclear fusion, where two protons may fuse to form deuterium, a form of hydrogen with a proton and a neutron. Deuterium can further fuse with another deuterium to form helium nuclei, a process that releases a massive amount of energy, defining the star as a main sequence star.

The energy produced from this core nuclear fusion balances the star's immense gravitational pull, achieving a state of equilibrium that sustains the star. But the nuclear fusion process doesn't stop at helium. Through the Triple Alpha Process, stars can form carbon, where two helium nuclei fuse into a beryllium nuclei, which can then fuse with a helium nuclei to form carbon. Without stars, and consequently hydrogen, carbon, and therefore life, would not exist.

Image credit: NASA/ESA, Hubble

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