Carbon-burning process

The carbon-burning process or carbon fusion is a set of nuclear fusion reactions that take place in the cores of massive stars (at least 8 at birth) that combines carbon into other elements. It requires high temperatures (> 5×108 K or 50 keV) and densities (> 3×109 kg/m3).[1]

These figures for temperature and density are only a guide. More massive stars burn their nuclear fuel more quickly, since they have to offset greater gravitational forces to stay in (approximate) hydrostatic equilibrium. That generally means higher temperatures, although lower densities, than for less massive stars.[2] To get the right figures for a particular mass, and a particular stage of evolution, it is necessary to use a numerical stellar model computed with computer algorithms.[3] Such models are continually being refined based on nuclear physics experiments (which measure nuclear reaction rates) and astronomical observations (which include direct observation of mass loss, detection of nuclear products from spectrum observations after convection zones develop from the surface to fusion-burning regions – known as 'dredge-up' events – and so bring nuclear products to the surface, and many other observations relevant to models).[4]

Fusion reactions

The principal reactions are:[5]

12
6
C
 
12
6
C
 
→  20
10
Ne
 
4
2
He
 
4.617 MeV
12
6
C
 
12
6
C
 
→  23
11
Na
 
1
1
H
 
2.241 MeV
12
6
C
 
12
6
C
 
→  23
12
Mg
 
1n  −  2.599 MeV
Alternatively:
12
6
C
 
12
6
C
 
→  24
12
Mg
 

 
13.933 MeV
12
6
C
 
12
6
C
 
→  16
8
O
 
4
2
He
 
−   0.113 MeV