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Once again, learning something not from Slashdot, but because of links found there. Starting with this discussion about a nuclear-powered mission to the moons of Jupiter, there was a link to this article, stating that crash landing a nuclear-powered probe into Jupiter could cause it to turn into a star. Basically, this article is full of facts and a gross misuse of these facts. They have correct information about the Galileo craft and some fairly factual discussion about fission, fusion and bombs. While it is true that the materials on the craft could be used for a fission bomb, they completely ignored the concept of critical mass. I couldn't think of the right term while reading the incorrect article, but the question of just how much plutonium was necessary came to mind.

Bad Astronomy saves the day and debunks the possiblity of a small nuclear-powered probe turning Jupiter into a star with this article. The critical (pun intended) points here are:

  1. The plutonium onboard Galileo was kept in small pellets, none of which were near critical mass.
  2. The hydrogen on Jupiter is of the most abundant isotope and lacks deuterium and tritium needed for a fusion reaction.
  3. Jupiter is about 1/80th the size needed to be a self-sustaining star.

I love science.