Ravi sighed and buried his face in his hands as his test hit the table with a smack; 64 out of 100. Come on, he was sure he had that one covered! Damn… maybe history wasn't one of his better classes.
"As you can see," Mr. Allen began, a hint of disapproval in his voice, "Most of you didn't do very well last week's exam." He dropped off the last test and trudged back to his desk, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "Guys, I know you're seniors and you're all tired of school, but just because this is your last year doesn't mean you can start slacking off. If you plan on going to college and getting a good job in a few years, you need to keep your grades up. Alright?" A few students nodded and muttered their agreements, and the bell rang loudly; the class began to pack up, and Ravi shoved his binder into his backpack before throwing it over his shoulder and booking it out into the hall. Well, test corrections were going to be a pain, but at least his next class wasn't terribly hard. He could really use a brain break.
"Hey, Ravi!" The lithe Indian boy glanced across the hall, where a lanky black kid was waving at him. His dense ebony hair was cut short, the color nicely accenting his rich hazelnut complexion and tawny-green eyes. The boy weaved through the hall towards Ravi, edging by the hordes of other students like he was navigating traffic.
"Hi, I'm Quarren," the boy began with a grin and an outstretched hand. "Quarren Woods." Ravi noted his lean but not overtly muscular build, surmising that this kid must be on the track team, or at least jog in his spare time. He was probably a good runner too, with his long legs and light form.
"Ravi Hale, but you knew that already," he responded in turn, shaking the boy's outstretched hand firmly. "So, what can I do for you?"
"I heard you're pretty good at science and stuff, and I was wondering if you could help me out with some astronomy homework." Quarren admitted, scrubbing a hand through his wiry curls. "Can I meet you in the library during lunch, maybe get a leg up?" Ravi considered this for a moment before shrugging and deciding there was probably no harm in it.
"Sure, why not? Just make sure not to take a table too close to the librarian; I don't think she likes me." he advised. Quarren gave an amused roll of his eyes, but nodded anyway.
"You got it, man. Thanks!" With that, he disappeared into the crowd again.
"Hey," Ravi said, flashing Quarren a quick smile as he dropped himself into one of the library's cheap plastic chairs. The chair creaked loudly in response, and the elderly librarian shot him a dirty look, which he dutifully ignored. "So what kind of astronomy are we talking about here?"
"Supernovae," Quarren replied, tossing his sleek blue binder onto the table and flipping it open briskly. "Or, to be exact, how type 2 supernovae happen." Ravi's amber eyes brightened with peaked interest.
"Supernovae are actually pretty easy to understand, if you sift through all of the excess information first," he began, shifting excitedly in his chair. "So, you know how gravity is one of the most powerful forces in the universe?" At Quarren's nod, he continued; "Well, a star starts out as a ball of hydrogen gas, pulled together by gravity. The problem, though, is that gravity wants to keep crushing the star, and naturally the star isn't exactly a fan of that idea, so in order to push back against gravity, it starts fusing its hydrogen atoms into helium."
"What does that do?" Quarren cut in, doodling idly in the margin of his paper.
"Well, fusion of lighter elements like hydrogen releases energy, and the star uses that energy to push back against gravity. So the star is fusing hydrogen in its core and turning it into helium, and it can do that for a long time, but it's eventually going to run out of hydrogen, so it'll go into the red supergiant phase to start fusing helium into carbon, then nitrogen, oxygen, neon, silicon… you get the idea. Eventually, though, it'll start fusing atoms into iron, until that's all it has left in its core."
"And why is that a problem?" Quarren piped up once again, glancing up and cocking his head slightly. "Oh, wait… iron is too heavy, isn't it?"
"Yep," Ravi confirmed. "Iron and other heavier elements absorb energy when they fuse, which means they can't be used as fuel. Since this star can't keep producing energy with all that iron in its core, gravity starts to crush it again. Now, this is a pretty large star we're talking about here, and when it starts getting crushed, it puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on the core. All that heat and pressure smashes the protons and electrons in the iron atoms together to form neutrons, which can pack together a lot closer, and the star collapses even faster. All the neutrons in the core end up slamming together and bouncing off each other. This sends a huge shockwave throughout the star, and the whole thing gets ripped apart in a giant explosion! And that," Ravi finished, "Is called a type 2 supernova." A look of realization dawned upon Quarren's face, hazel eyes widening in what Ravi hoped was understanding.
"Oh, now I'm getting it!" he exclaimed. "Lemme run through that one more time, just to refresh; so the star fuses its atoms to produce energy and stand up against gravity, and it keeps doing that all the way through its life until it fuses all the atoms in its core into iron during the red supergiant phase." Ravi nodded affirmatively, and Quarren allowed himself a quick pat on the back before moving on. "Iron uses up energy to fuse, so the star can't use it for fuel, and gravity starts to crush it again. Getting crushed puts a ton of pressure on the core, and the protons and electrons in the iron combine into neutrons, which can pack closer together. I assume they can do that because they have a neutral charge?"
"You got it," Ravi replied. "Then?"
"Then, because they can pack closer together, gravity is able to crush the star even faster, and the neutrons all end up slamming into each other and bouncing off really violently, which blows up the entire star!"
"Yes! Very nice," Ravi exclaimed. Quarren pumped his fist, a triumphant grin spreading across his face.
"Thank you so much," he said, a genuinely grateful look in his eyes as he flipped his binder closed and shoved it back into his backpack. Throwing one strap over one narrow shoulder, he pushed his chair back under the table somewhat clumsily. "I gotta go, I promised Ms. Reynolds that I'd turn in my essay before the end of lunch, but hey, if you ever need a favor, I'm generally out in the courtyard during lunch." With that, he set off, waving a thankful goodbye as he disappeared out the door.
Back at the library table, Ravi couldn't help but smile to himself, before getting up and heading over to the mythology section for a quick read.
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