CNO cycle

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The CNO cycle (for carbon-nitrogen-oxygen), or sometimes Bethe-Weizsäcker-cycle, is one of two sets of fusion reactions by which stars convert hydrogen to helium, the other being the proton-proton chain. Theoretical models show that the CNO cycle is the dominant source of energy in stars more massive than about 1.3 times the mass of the sun. The proton-proton chain is more important in stars the mass of the sun or less. This difference stems from temperature dependency differences between the two reactions; pp-chain reactions start occurring at temperatures around 4×106
 K
, making it the dominant force in smaller stars. The CNO chain starts occurring at approximately 13×106
 K
[citation needed], but its energy output rises much faster with increasing temperatures. At approximately 17×106
 K
, the CNO cycle starts becoming the dominant source of energy.[1] The Sun has a core temperature of around 15.7×106
 K
and only 1.7% of 4
He
nuclei being produced in the Sun are born in the CNO cycle. The CNO process was independently proposed by Carl von Weizsäcker[2] and Hans Bethe[3] in 1938 and 1939, respectively.

In the CNO cycle, four protons fuse, using carbon, nitrogen and oxygen isotopes as a catalyst, to produce one alpha particle, two positrons and two electron neutrinos. The positrons will almost instantly annihilate with electrons, releasing energy in the form of gamma rays. The neutrinos escape from the star carrying away some energy. The carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotopes are in effect one nucleus that goes through a number of transformations in an endless loop.

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