Energy Conversion - History of Energy Transformation From The Early Universe

History of Energy Transformation From The Early Universe

Energy transformations in the universe over time are (generally) characterized by various kinds of energy which has been available since the Big Bang, later being "released" (that is, transformed to more active types of energy such as kinetic or radiant energy), when a triggering mechanism is available to do it. A direct transformation of energy occurs when hydrogen produced in the big bang collects into structures such as planets, in a process during which part of the gravitational potential is to be converted directly into heat. In Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, for example, such heat from continued collapse of the planets' large gas atmospheres continues to drive most of the planets' weather systems, with atmospheric bands, winds, and powerful storms which are only partly powered by sunlight, however, on Uranus, little of this process occurs.

Familiar examples of other such processes transforming energy from the Big Bang include nuclear decay, in which energy is released which was originally "stored" in heavy isotopes, such as uranium and thorium. This energy was stored at the time of these elements' nucleosynthesis, a process which ultimately uses the gravitational potential energy released from the gravitational collapse of type IIa supernovae, to store energy in the creation of these heavy elements before they were incorporated into the solar system and the Earth. Such energy locked into uranium is triggered for sudden-release in nuclear fission bombs, and similar stored energies in atomic nuclei are released spontaneously, during most types of radioactive decay. In such processes, heat from decay of these atoms of radioisotope in the core of the Earth is transformed immediately to heat. This heat in turn may lift mountains, via plate tectonics and orogenesis. This slow lifting of terrain thus represents a kind of gravitational potential energy storage of the heat energy. The stored potential energy may be released to active kinetic energy in landslides, after a triggering event. Earthquakes also release stored elastic potential energy in rocks, a kind of mechanical potential energy which has been produced ultimately from the same radioactive heat sources. Thus, according to present understanding, familiar events such as landslides and earthquakes release energy which has been stored as potential energy in the Earth's gravitational field, or elastic strain (mechanical potential energy) in rocks. Prior to this, the energy represented by these events had been stored in heavy atoms, ever since the time that gravitational potentials transforming energy in the collapse of long-destroyed stars created these atoms, and in doing so, stored the energy within them.

In other similar chain of transformations beginning at the dawn of the universe, nuclear fusion of hydrogen in the Sun releases another store of potential energy which was created at the time of the Big Bang. At that time, according to theory, space expanded and the universe cooled too rapidly for hydrogen to completely fuse into heavier elements. This resulted in hydrogen representing a store of potential energy which can be released by nuclear fusion. Such a fusion process is triggered by heat and pressure generated from gravitational collapse of hydrogen clouds when they produce stars, and some of the fusion energy is then transformed into sunlight. Such sunlight may again be stored as gravitational potential energy after it strikes the Earth, as (for example) snow-avalanches, or when water evaporates from oceans and is deposited high above sea level (where, after being released at a hydroelectric dam, it can be used to drive turbine/generators to produce electricity). Sunlight also drives many weather phenomena on Earth. An example of a solar-mediated weather event is a hurricane, which occurs when large unstable areas of warm ocean, heated over months, give up some of their thermal energy suddenly to power a few days of violent air movement. Sunlight is also captured by green plants as chemical potential energy, when carbon dioxide and water are converted into a combustible combination of carbohydrates, lipids, and oxygen. Release of this energy as heat and light may be triggered suddenly by a spark, in a forest fire; or it may be available more slowly for animal or human metabolism, when these molecules are ingested, and catabolism is triggered by enzyme action.

Through all of these transformation chains, potential energy stored at the time of the Big Bang is later released by intermediate events, sometimes being stored in a number of ways over time between releases, as more active energy. In all these events, one kind of energy is converted to other types of energy, including heat.

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