Regarding fusion in our sun

Last night I had the opportunity to compete in a charity quiz bowl for our local adult literacy program. One of the questions that was given to us concerned the type of nuclear reaction that happens in the sun. I buzzed in first and gave the answer “fusion”, which I thought would be adequate as an answer. Apparently that wasn’t the case, since the judges were looking for the specific term “thermonuclear fusion”.

I’ll admit I have never taken a physics course in my life, but I do like to read on a wide range of subjects. Was my answer that far off base that it could be called incorrect? Wouldn’t all fusion reactions by their nature be considered thermonuclear? (Let’s not even get into the subject of cold fusion, okay?)

I guess if I really wanted to get technical about it, I should have used the term “stellar fusion” instead. Seems like that would have been a more appropriate answer since it defines not only the type of reaction but the scale as well.

What do you all think? Was I robbed of my points?

You were robbed (for charity…so it’s tax deductible).

Yeah, unless you said “cold fusion,” you were probably robbed.

But don’t feel bad. In high school, I answered the question “Who was the protagonist of The Odyssey?” with “Odysseus.” They said I was incorrect–it was “Ulysses.”

Um, no. The reason the Odyssey is so named is because it’s a derivation of the name Odysseus. “Ulysses” is the Roman translation. I was a big-time mythology nut in high school, and that really pissed me off.

Our school ended up winning the tournament, anyway.

I guess the reason that I’m a little irritated by this is that the points I would have scored would have allowed us to win the match and continue into tonight’s semi-finals. When the competing team tried to answer after our attempt, even THEY said that my fusion answer was correct. (They didn’t get the points either, even thought they elaborated about the fusion of hydrogen atoms to produce helium.)

Any other opinions out there?

PS: I would have given the same answer, easy e. Our high school made us read the Greek translation of the Odyssey. Sorry you got ripped off on that one, but I’m glad you won.

Would they have accepted “nuclear fusion”? I know, I know, you don’t know.

Nuclear fusion
Thermonuclear fusion
Thermonuclear fusion of Hydrogen

Each term is more specific, but it’s sort of arbitrary where to draw the line. I don’t see how you are supposed to know ahead of time.

Most likely the judges were a bunch of rubes, for whom the phrase “thermonuclear fusion” may as well be a Hindu chant. Not knowing what the phrase actually means, they would have required an exact answer because that’s what it says on the card!

However, on dictionary examination, the word “fusion” does not exclusively refer to nuclear energy (the word in English predates the atomic age by about 400 years; the Latin version much longer), so maybe it’s your fault, after all.

You were robbed. “Fusion” is plenty enough of an answer given that you’re talking about a reaction in the sun. What’d they think you were talking about - fusion jazz? The fusion of bones? If this happened to you on Jeopardy!, you’d get to come back.

While they where hemming and hawing, I remember asking them if they wanted me to be more specific. I trotted out the terms “nuclear fusion” and “hydrogen fusion” to try to help my case, but no dice.

Like I said, even the other team said that I was right when they were given the opportunity to answer.

Of course, what was really written on the card was:



Yeah, you’re lucky they didn’t require to you to say “Copyright 1989, Trivial Pursuit Inc”

Oooh, hecklers.


I’m running a quiz this Saturday; last time I got into a massive argument with one of the contestants; the question was “what is the time difference between GMT and New Zealand Time?”; the contestant, a native of those islands, answered 13 hours and argued the case, having flown over from NZ just a few days previously. She wouldn’t accept it, but the correct answer was 12 hours - but GMT is never opposite NZT; it’s always British Summer Time vs NZT or GMT vs NZ Summer Time, so you have to adjust your watch by 13 or 11 hours, but GMT vs NZT is 12.

I’m no physicist, but I thought thermonuclear fusion specifically referred to an exothermic fusion reaction - i.e. one in which excess heat is a product. That is, at the end of the reaction, there is a net decrease in mass and net increase in energy (related of course, by that famous equation). I vaguely remember that some fusion reactions are endothermic - more energy goes in than comes out, and there is a net mass increase. That’s how all elements heavier than iron are made.

Is this right, or have I spent too much time out in the sun?

No, no, no, everyone, the correct answer is obviously “Thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen-1 to helium-4 via the p-p chain and the carbon cycle, collectively known as the solar phoenix” :rolleyes:

The reactions in the Sun are, indeed, fusion reactions, and that’s enough to distinguish them from fission reactions, or stimulated beta decay reactions, or neutron capture reactions, or any of the other sorts. Me, I’d call your answer correct.

It seems pretty likely the purpose of the question was to distinguish between fission and fusion, not different types of fusion. I’d say the answer given was correct.

FTR, IMHO they’re being WAY overly technical, but no, your answer wasn’t absolutely 100% precise.

According to Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabriged Dictionary (1989), nuclear fusion is the melding of atoms - what happens in the sun. However, chemical fusion can mean the process of melting…or the pulling apart of solid atoms into liquid. Fusion is one of those words, like cleave, that have opposite meanings, depending on context.

You wuz still robbed (unless it’s Final Jeopardy!)


If it’s any constellation, you would’ve gotten the points on my last astronomy test.

[sub]I know, it was intentional[/sub]


They did say that they were looking for the type of nuclear reaction which took place in the sun. I just felt that “fusion” would be an adequate response.

Anyway, I watched the quiz bowl finals last night, and our honorable competitors ended up winning the final round. It could’ve been us up there, but there’s always next year.

Thanks for the information and commentary guys!