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Old 03-24-2020, 01:19 PM
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Artificially Halting Fusion in a Star?


I had a weird thought the other day, wondering if there was a way to artificially stop fusion from occurring in a star. Staying within known science, is there a hypothetical way to do it? Maybe introducing large (really large) amounts of heavy elements that aren't readily fusionable (fusible?)?
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Old 03-24-2020, 03:27 PM
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Adding a hugh amount of unfusible elements will not do it. That mass will eventually settle into the center of the star and the fusion will go on around it. That kind of thing already happens in stars. The helium that's produced by fusing hydrogen is not fusible at the temperatures of most stars and it does that. Also, stars have some elements that are not fusible in their original makeup. Most of those settle in the center, although there'll be some small amount scattered through-out that we can detect via spectroscopy.

At any rate, the total mass of the Solar System that's not already in the sun is only a small fraction (1% roughly) of the mass of the sun, so we don't really have a lot of mass to add to it.

The only real way I can think of to slow or stop fusion is to remove mass from the sun. Have fun doing that.
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Old 03-24-2020, 03:31 PM
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I guess we could throw a neutron star at it, not directly but close enough that its tidal force would rip apart the Sun.

There, I've reduced the problem down to "how do you get hold of a neutron star and move it about?"
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Old 03-24-2020, 03:54 PM
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I guess we could throw a neutron star at it, not directly but close enough that its tidal force would rip apart the Sun.
Hey, we'd get more planets that way.

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There, I've reduced the problem down to "how do you get hold of a neutron star and move it about?"
Not sure whether to say "Exercise left for the student." or "Just a matter of engineering." It's one of those two.
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Old 03-24-2020, 04:59 PM
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Also the, "Then a miracle occurs" entry into the equation.

http://www.ecoevoblog.com/2015/06/08...formula-sorry/
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Old 03-25-2020, 08:44 AM
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Turning off the gravity in the vicinity of the star should do the trick. It is left as an exercise for the reader to figure out a way to do this.

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Old 03-25-2020, 08:46 AM
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Can we teleport a black hole into the middle of it?

Warning: Do not try this at home.

Last edited by JohnT; 03-25-2020 at 08:47 AM.
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Old 03-25-2020, 09:25 AM
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Can we teleport a black hole into the middle of it?

Warning: Do not try this at home.
Although a black hole may eventually absorb the star it will not halt fusion in a main sequence star. Depending on the size it might even accelerate the the CNO cycle and create novel “Hot CNO” nuclear fusion reactions that normally only occur in novae.

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Old 03-25-2020, 09:25 AM
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Old 03-25-2020, 09:33 AM
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Turning off the gravity in the vicinity of the star should do the trick. It is left as an exercise for the reader to figure out a way to do this.
You just need to have a Q on your side.
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Old 03-25-2020, 12:12 PM
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Heat it up more, contain it in a dyson sphere to reflect back much of the heat which would expand the star and inhibit fusion. Heat it up enough and it should overcome its own gravity and fly apart.
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Old 03-25-2020, 12:22 PM
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Heat it up more, contain it in a dyson sphere to reflect back much of the heat which would expand the star and inhibit fusion. Heat it up enough and it should overcome its own gravity and fly apart.
So, even more nonsensical than turning off gravity, eh?

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Last edited by Stranger On A Train; 03-25-2020 at 12:24 PM.
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Old 03-25-2020, 12:27 PM
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Just toss the whole mess into a really big black hole. It's the only way to be sure.

(Unless some joker comes along and turns off gravity, but hopefully by then there won't be much left of your star, that you would recognize, anyway.)
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Old 03-25-2020, 12:52 PM
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Time travel to when it turns into a red giant ? A few billion years for our sun.
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Old 03-25-2020, 01:57 PM
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Time travel to when it turns into a red giant ? A few billion years for our sun.
Even red giants still do fusion. You have to go all the way to when it's a white dwarf.

BTW, you could divide our sun into 12 and a half[1] equal parts and still have fusion going on in twelve of them. The extra half would make a nice brown dwarf.


[1] and yes, I know the half is not going to be equal to the others.
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Old 03-25-2020, 02:55 PM
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Starlifting.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_lifting
Use the star's own luminosity to lift matter off its surface. Keep doing this until the star loses enough mass to make sustained fusion impossible. This should take several billion years.

It should be possible to increase the rate of matter removal, perhaps by increasing the temperature of the star by building a big mirror to heat portions of the surface up. Alternately you could use the matter removed using the starlifting technology to power huge fusion generators, basically increasing the total luminosity of the star significantly while spreding it out over a larger volume.

If your original aim was to decrease the luminosity of the star in the short term, you will have failed dismally, since the starlifted star would shine brighter than before during this process (albeit mostly in the infra-red). But eventually you will remove enough mass to stop fusionj.
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Old 03-25-2020, 02:59 PM
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So, even more nonsensical than turning off gravity, eh?

Stranger
Please elaborate. Turning off gravity is not an option; reflecting light back onto the star would use real physics.
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Old 03-25-2020, 04:44 PM
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Please elaborate. Turning off gravity is not an option; reflecting light back onto the star would use real physics.
Well, first of all you cannot reflect "heat" back toward the star. Heat is a system property that reflects the amount of randomized energy contained in that system. The natural distribution of randomized energy within a system tends to level out gradients rather than magnify them. This is the second law of thermodynamics and is not subject to any kind of "engineering fix".

Second, any non-magical material that this "dyson sphere" (I assume the poster means a uniform shell rather than Freeman Dyson's original concept of a swarm of energy-collecting orbital satellites) will have to both accept and radiate radiation per the Stefan–Boltzmann law on both its inner and outer surfaces. Since the temperature of the incoming radiation from the star will be at a temperature greater than or equal to than the interior surface of the shell itself, the only direction to radiate the energy is outward. No, painting it silver doesn't help other than shifting the characteristic radiative properties; it will still absorb radiation and heat up until it comes to an equilibrium temperature, and because the back side is radiating to an almost perfect blackbody at the 2.7 Kelvin microwave background, it will radiate essentially all of the incoming energy out to space. It won't have the same spectral distribution as a star but it will radiate away at nearly the same amount of total power across the spectral distribution minus whatever energy is retained within the system up to the point that the shell melts or vaporizes away when it can no longer maintain electrochemical bonds. Again, no engineering can correct for principles of heat transfer or basic materials science.

Finally, even if you had some kind of magical shell material that was completely adiabatic (completely insulating), would remain intact at temperatures in the tens of millions degrees Kelvin, and would contain the energy being added to the system without limit, this would not result in the scenario presented by the poster ("...expand the star and inhibit fusion."). Instead, as the temperature of the entire system goes up you would actually observe fusion occurring in layers outside the core (or rather, the area that defines the core would expand outward) and the star would experience more and hotter fusion. If the entire interior volume reached the fusion triple product (density x plasma temperature x confinement time) threshold, the entire star would be engaged in fusion with the core experiencing triple alpha process and eventually carbon burning and on up the alpha ladder.

Of course, "turning off the gravity" is absurd as well--a point I assume the reader would grasp from context, although I am sometimes guilty of failing to use my sarcastic voice--but realistically there is no way to artificially stop fusion from occurring in a star using any existing science. The o.p. asks an interesting question in a clear and straightforward way, and thus deserves a factual answer without wanton speculation masquerading as science.

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Old 03-25-2020, 05:13 PM
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So you discount the possibility of starlifting altogether? You may be correct, since there has been no evidence of such a process occuring anywhere in the Milky Way Galaxy as far as I know. But I certainly would not discount it yet.
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Old 03-25-2020, 05:42 PM
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So you discount the possibility of starlifting altogether? You may be correct, since there has been no evidence of such a process occuring anywhere in the Milky Way Galaxy as far as I know. But I certainly would not discount it yet.
By "starlifting" you mean somehow vacuuming up material and dispersing it? Sure, I guess if you had a really big cordless Cosmic DustBuster and a lot of time on your hands, but remember, the star is caused to fusion by the mass of its own material folding space upon it. You can't just collect the material; you have to lift it completely out of the gravity well, and then disperse it so that it doesn't fall back down, or add enough kinetic energy that the material achieves escape velocity, or some similarly ridiculous scheme. And if it is going to take you many billions of years to achieve this, you might as well just wait it out because eventually the star will burn off all hydrogen, turn to a white dwarf phase of helium burning, and eventually radiate all residual energy all on its own.

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Old 03-25-2020, 05:45 PM
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I have no idea about the answer to your question, but in case you're interested in fiction about it, the Charles Stross novel Iron Sunrise describes the aftermath of such an event in one of the opening chapters.
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Old 03-25-2020, 05:46 PM
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A couple of really interesting answers to this question here
What would happen to a star if a Dyson sphere lined with mirrors reflected a significant portion of the stars light back to the star?
https://physics.stackexchange.com/qu...eflected-a-sig
Unfortunately these answers don't agree with one another. very well. They do suggest that the rate of fusion would increase, but the star would also expand and cool down more quickly, so much of the effect would be dissipated. An expanded star with a slightly lower density would be marginally easier to starlift.

If 10% of the Sun's luminosity could be dedicated to lifting matter off its surface, it would be all gone in less than 100 million years; rather the Sun would shrink down to a brown dwarf, and fusion would stop some time after that.
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Old 03-25-2020, 07:19 PM
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Spin the star faster and have it fly apart? Since the star is a great power source it might be possible to use it's own energy to do this.

Antimatter somehow released in the core with enough energy to blow it apart, or just throwing a stellar sized antimatter star at it?
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Old 03-25-2020, 11:36 PM
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OP asked for "a way to artificially stop fusion from occurring in a star." If the star is blown apart, nothing happens within it because there's no star left. Thus the goal is to quench the rather energetic fusion process and leave behind a sub-stellar mass.

The solution is simple: Squirt a shitload of oxygen into the solar core where it combines with the hydrogen, leaving a big blob of water tinged with helium. But let's do that in another solar system. Ours still has its uses.
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Old 03-26-2020, 12:58 AM
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OP asked for "a way to artificially stop fusion from occurring in a star." If the star is blown apart, nothing happens within it because there's no star left. Thus the goal is to quench the rather energetic fusion process and leave behind a sub-stellar mass.

The solution is simple: Squirt a shitload of oxygen into the solar core where it combines with the hydrogen, leaving a big blob of water tinged with helium. But let's do that in another solar system. Ours still has its uses.
1) we don't have that much oxygen

2) based on this column by Cecil: How many ice cubes would it take to put out the sun?, it still wouldn't work.
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Old 03-26-2020, 05:39 AM
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Spin the star faster and have it fly apart? Since the star is a great power source it might be possible to use it's own energy to do this.
Not a bad idea. Of course, spinning a star to raise material off the star into orbit would take just as much energy as any other method of starlifting, so this method doesn't seem to have any advantage over other methods at first sight; but if you spin a star rapidly enough, it starts to emit energy in a band around its equator, becoming a so-called Be star.

This added luminosity could speed the extraction process up slightly, but I'm not sure it would be worth doing. At the end of the day you are wasting energy by spinning material you don't need to extract.
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Old 03-26-2020, 12:03 PM
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I should have specified that I was using the Isaac Arthur definition of "possible".

Star lifting is a good answer, but I was more interested in stopping fusion without removing mass. It looks like the answer is "it's impossible."

Of course, if protons don't decay, you could wait around until the star turns to iron, but that's not too artificial.
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Old 03-26-2020, 03:43 PM
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In the Schlock Mercenary universe a race of sophonts use meta-stable dark matter to compress the core of the star into an oxy-neon-magnesium white dwarf, with attendant supernova boom - my understanding is that this would basically halt fusion (or significantly slow it down) and produce continuing energy primarily by thermal radiation.

The flaw in their plan is that the meta-stable dark matter gives rise to a race of dark-matter sophonts who primarily use gravity as a weapon and hate baryonic life with a passion ...

Best start from the beginning if you are stuck at home in lockdown and need diversion for several days - it's a 20 year archive of daily webcomics without any missed days.
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Last edited by si_blakely; 03-26-2020 at 03:44 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 03-26-2020, 03:53 PM
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Give the star a lifetime achievement Academy Award. That pretty much means they're done.
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Old 03-26-2020, 04:48 PM
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Although a black hole may eventually absorb the star it will not halt fusion in a main sequence star. Depending on the size it might even accelerate the the CNO cycle and create novel “Hot CNO” nuclear fusion reactions that normally only occur in novae.
But for how long? A star attracted by the gravitation of a black hole from a substantial distance would typically reach an appreciable fraction of the speed of light by the time it approached the event horizon. If the black hole was not particularly large, the star would be shredded by tidal forces and perhaps form a spectacular accretion disk for a while. If the black hole was huge, the star might just quietly disappear, and "freeze" at the event horizon where from our perspective there is no time, but it would emit no more, neither radiation nor particles. It's not exactly "halting fusion", but it's a convenient way to make a star disappear!
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Old 03-26-2020, 04:48 PM
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There isn't enough pressure in the cores of main-sequence stars to actually squeeze the nuclei of atoms close enough together to fuse--the fusion happens through the occasional bit of quantum tunneling, which is based on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. So if you surround a star with Heisenberg Compensators set to maximum range, maybe they could switch it off.
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Old 03-26-2020, 06:41 PM
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We've gone off the ledge here. I down to suggesting teleporting Tribbles to the center.
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Old 03-27-2020, 04:20 AM
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Take control of the Sun’s magnetic field. The Sun is already depleting itself through coronal mass ejections. The Sun’s magnetic field is dynamic. Fluctuations in the pattern of the magnetic field create a phenomenon known as magnetic reconnections which result in the “release [of] large quantities of matter and electromagnetic radiation into space”. According to Wikipedia, “the average mass ejected is 1.6×10^12 kg.” The Sun’s mass is 1.989 × 10^30 kg. Using the figure from post #15 that the minimum mass required for stellar fusion is 1/12.5 of the Sun’s current mass, you’d need a bit more than 1.6 trillion coronal mass ejections to reduce the Sun’s mass beyond that point. That calculation presumes that the average size of the coronal mass ejections will remain constant as the Sun’s mass diminishes, which probably isn’t true, but will give you a starting point.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronal_mass_ejection

Of course, that method is stopping fusion by the depletion of the Sun. If you want it to remain intact, you’ll need to find a way of creating an equilibrium between the Sun’s gravity and the electric repulsion of the protons in its atoms. That’s probably a bit more difficult.
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Old 03-27-2020, 04:28 AM
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Note that I probably should have read the entry on star lifting before I posted the previous answer. It looks like it encompasses the method I've just described in the first paragraph above.

Last edited by Wrenching Spanners; 03-27-2020 at 04:31 AM.
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Old 03-27-2020, 05:03 AM
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Does dark matter count within "known science"? Lots of unknowns about it, but we know it can pass through visible matter and has gravity. So that gives more scope for potentially making a star expand (if you can throw around vast amounts of the stuff very precisely), which will temporarily pause at least some of the fusion. A whimper-nova, if you will.

Although, probably other processes would be releasing vast amounts of energy during such a turbulent process. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to do the maths
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Old 03-27-2020, 08:55 AM
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Dark matter has been suggested upthread (read Schlock Mercenary for one strategy concerning the use of this material). I think the consequences of adding extra dark matter would be to increase the density of the star, which would increase the rate of fusion, not decrease it.
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Old 03-27-2020, 09:21 AM
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Oh I missed that. But anyway my plan is not just to "add" dark matter. Since dark matter can move freely through ordinary matter (and, apparently, itself) you have several degrees of freedom in the position and velocity of dark matter relative to the star. That's the whole point of using it.
There should be configurations of dark matter where you can, temporarily at least, pull the star apart. With less pressure on the core, fusion goes down. But, like I said, there's no way you can be throwing around hellatons of mass around every second and not release crazy amounts of energy for other reasons.

Last edited by Mijin; 03-27-2020 at 09:22 AM.
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Old 03-27-2020, 10:11 AM
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I'm not familiar with the metric prefix "hella". Is that a multiplier of ten to the bunches?
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Old 03-27-2020, 10:36 AM
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10^27

Although on checking it's not 100% official yet as so far only Google and Wolfram Alpha have supported it (link).
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Old 03-28-2020, 07:01 AM
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By "starlifting" you mean somehow vacuuming up material and dispersing it? Sure, I guess if you had a really big cordless Cosmic DustBuster and a lot of time on your hands
If you could coax a black hole into close orbit perhaps?
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Old 03-28-2020, 07:28 AM
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There are numerous stars in the Milky Way Galaxy which have a black hole in close orbit around them. These stars are gradually losing mass as it is falling into the black hole, but in most cases the infalling matter is pinched and fusion occurs. Often these pinch-points are very bright in x-ray wavelengths, so these pairs are known as x-ray binaries. Some of thedonor stars have lost quite a lot of mass, so this method might eventually work.

This diagram gives a nice list of x-ray binaries together with their respective sizes.
https://jila.colorado.edu/~ajsh/cour...mcclintock.gif
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Old 03-28-2020, 08:55 AM
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There are numerous stars in the Milky Way Galaxy which have a black hole in close orbit around them. These stars are gradually losing mass as it is falling into the black hole, but in most cases the infalling matter is pinched and fusion occurs. Often these pinch-points are very bright in x-ray wavelengths, so these pairs are known as x-ray binaries.

I thought emission from accretion was from gravitational potential energy, not fusion? Also, I think the mass loss would stop as soon as it lost enough mass that the star no longer fills the Roche lobe.
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Old 03-28-2020, 09:32 AM
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Both, usually. The gravitational energy from accretion heats the material enough for fusion.
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Old 03-28-2020, 11:05 AM
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But you are right about the Roche lobe.
Note, however, that many of the known x-ray binaries are quite small stars; if a star were near the lowest mass possible for a red dwarf, it could lose enough material over time to become a brown dwarf and cease fusion altogether.
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Old 03-28-2020, 10:28 PM
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1) we don't have that much oxygen
The OP asked for "known science" not engineering. We'll get the O2 from *somewhere*. Exactly where is beyond the questions's scope.

Ice cubes won't work; too much H2. No, we must merely find an O2 mass somewhere and haul it into place. With drones, probably. Unless you're volunteering your family. I'd stake mine but they're lazy sods. YMMV.
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Old 03-29-2020, 02:08 AM
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Ice cubes won't work; too much H2. No, we must merely find an O2 mass somewhere and haul it into place.
Still wouldn't work. it's way too hot in the sun for water molecules to form or stay together. A point Cecil made in the column.
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