The Universe's Biggest Bangs | Almanac.com

The Universe's Biggest Bangs

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With this week’s fireworks fresh in mind, we’re allowed to wonder: What is the universe’s most awesome energy? 

Right now, when early summer solar power is so strong, we might first say that “The Sun” is the most powerful force. Not a bad starting point.

The Energy of our Sun

We’re talking nuclear fusion, first revealed in 1920. Turns out, at a high enough temperature, four ordinary hydrogen atoms fuse into one of helium. This always releases energy. The Sun’s core emits 96 billion megatons each second. Essentially 96 billion H-bombs exploding continuously.

This conversion of mass to energy reduces the Sun’s actual weight by four million tons per second. Sounds worrisome, but it merely adds up to losing one Earth-mass since it was born.


The Explosions of Supernovas

A few blue, super-hot summer stars one-up the sun by releasing the energy of 100,000 suns. We call them stars, but they’re really nonstop explosions. 

Yet they’re popguns compared to supernovas—which are exploding stars. A supernova is the largest explosion that takes place in space—as space bright as a half billion Suns. Read more in my article about supernovas.


The Power of Antimatter

But let’s not stop there. Say we want even greater power. Then we’ve got to make matter collide with antimatter. This actually happens in our own Milky Way galaxy. It’s the 100% conversion of matter to energy.

A single gram of salami, fully converted into its innate energy, could power a 100-watt bulb for 30,000 years. A dollar bill weighs one gram. So squeezing the energy from a single paper currency note could run a 1 HP motor for 1,500 years. Einstein was right: Converting any object’s mass to energy yields frighteningly awesome power. 


Zero-Point Energy

Yet there’s even an energy greater than when antimatter meets normal matter. It’s the unseen power that fills all of space. Called vacuum energy, or Zero Point energy, it’s so powerful, an empty mayonnaise jar of vacant space might be able to boil away all our oceans in three seconds. 


So yes, we have learned how to make ever-bigger fireworks. But they’re cap pistols compared to what the universe has hidden in each bit of its seeming emptiness.

About The Author

Bob Berman

Bob Berman, astronomer editor for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob is the world’s most widely read astronomer and has written ten popular books. Read More from Bob Berman

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