Eddington in Cardiff 100 years ago today: the first proposal that stars are powered by fusion

Here’s a fascinating bit of astrophysics history by former Cardiff colleague Bernard Schutz: one hundred years ago today, Arthur Stanley Eddington gave a talk in Cardiff in which he, with great prescience, proposed the idea that stars might be powered by nuclear fusion.

The Rumbling Universe

One hundred years ago today, on 24 August 1920, with over 1000 people gathered in Cardiff for the annual meeting of the British Association, Arthur Eddington gave his address as the incoming president of the physical and mathematical sciences section. He elected to speak on the subject of the “Internal Constitution of the Stars”. When I first came across the text of the address last year (published in Nature in 1920), I was amazed to find as early as this such an insightful proposal that stars are powered by the synthesis of helium from hydrogen. But what really brought me up short was this sentence:

If, indeed, the sub-atomic energy in the stars is being freely used to maintain their great furnaces, it seems to bring a little nearer to fulfilment our dream of controlling this latent power for the well-being of the human race – or for…

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9 Responses to “Eddington in Cardiff 100 years ago today: the first proposal that stars are powered by fusion”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    One thing I’ve never found out is where exactly Eddington gave his address. Mike Disney used to claim it was in the Reardon Smith lecture theatre in the National Library of Wales. I’ve never been able to find a location in the BAAS report of the meeting, nor in accounts in scientific journals.

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