Readers weigh in on nuclear fusion, paths to the good life and more

Fuse and fizzle

Laser-sparked nuclear fusion reactions released nearly as much energy as was used to ignite them, Emily Conover reported in “Physicists near a nuclear fusion feat” (SN: 9/11/21, p. 11).

Reader Christopher asked how scientists contained the fusion reaction.

Fusion reactions don’t need to be contained because they fizzle out on their own, Conover says. Shortly after the laser blast ends, so do the reactions. This is one of the benefits of fusion, she says. Since the reactions stop on their own, unlike the fission reactions currently used to generate nuclear energy, there’s no risk of a runaway reaction leading to a meltdown.

What makes a good life?

Happiness and meaning are long-posited avenues to the “good life.” Psychological richness spurred by perspective-changing experiences may be a third path, Sujata Gupta reported in “Roads to the good life” (SN: 9/11/21, p. 24).

Reader Ellen Leff wondered whether people’s approaches to the good life change with age.

Paths to the good life may evolve over time, Gupta says. Younger people tend to desire a life of happiness, while older people lean toward psychological richness, a 2020 study published in Affective Science suggests. But that difference was found primarily in people in the United States. More research is needed to determine if the trend holds for people in other countries. Personality traits tend to be stable across time, Gupta says. People open to novel experiences, the trait most strongly linked with richness, will probably continue pursuing such experiences as they age. Theoretically, those people may report higher richness at the end of life than people who are less open to novel experiences.

A weigh with words

Flickers in a black hole’s accretion disk can help scientists measure its mass, Lisa Grossman reported in “How black holes eat hints at their mass” (SN: 9/11/21, p. 12).

The story inspired reader David Morse, a published author, to craft a poem:

Black holes feed on everything: kitchen scraps; whole galaxies. / Scientists are trying to weigh those vast star-suckers by what / they leave behind: a white-hot disc of gas and cosmic dust / that twinkles like a campfire in the night, but a billion times / brighter than our sun. Astronomers count that pulse, use Einstein’s / theory of relativity to calculate the weight. I can’t do the math, / only know this from afar, that scientists somewhere are counting / light to weigh the unweighable by its blinking residue. I can’t help / but see Albert himself peering past that droopy white moustache / like a green grocer testing a balance scale with his thumb, in / a world where nothing so personal exists, where green grocers / are all sucked into those big box stores, our sun a dying star.

Pondering perspectives

Sujata Gupta’s story on psychological richness (see “What makes a good life?” above caught the attention of Science News reader Margaret Atwood. The acclaimed poet, essayist and novelist shared Gupta’s story with her millions of followers on Twitter, writing: “Perspective-changing experiences, good or bad, can lead to richer lives.”