For an evolved massive star, elements such as hydrogen, helium, carbon, oxygen, magnesium ... iron are involved, but from the picture below, there doesn't seem to have a layer of magnesium fusion shell. So could magnesium form a fusion shell?

enter image description here

image credit: Gemini Observatory/NSF/C.Aspin

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    $\begingroup$ The whole picture is (overly) simplified in pop sci descriptions of the process. In particular, many of these burning regions are quite turbulent, there is mixing and so-on. The nice neat onion picture is very much more of a schematic. But your Q is still a valid one in terms of whether Mg- or S-burning regions have a distinct identity. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ What ProfRob said. Also, that diagram makes it look like all the shell layers have the same thickness (they don't), and it doesn't inducate the time scales involved, which get progressively shorter as the burning temperature increases. I give Wikipedia's approximate timings for a 25 solar mass star in this answer: astronomy.stackexchange.com/a/41415/16685 $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 19:08

1 Answer 1


Magnesium does not have its own fusion shell inside stars.

If you have a look at the Nuclear Binding Energies per nucleon(NBE) of Elements, you will notice one trend: Most of the elements that form a shell have a higher value of NBE locally.

Nuclear binding energy is the minimum energy that is required to disassemble the nucleus of an atom into its constituent protons and neutrons, known collectively as nucleons. The binding energy is always a positive number, as the nucleus must gain energy for the nucleons to move apart from each other.

Hence, elements that form shells have a stable nucleus and are difficult to burn.

In the periodic table of elements, the series of light elements from hydrogen up to sodium is observed to exhibit generally increasing binding energy per nucleon as the atomic mass increases. This increase is generated by increasing forces per nucleon in the nucleus, as each additional nucleon is attracted by other nearby nucleons, and thus more tightly bound to the whole. Helium-4 and oxygen-16 are particularly stable exceptions to the trend (see figure on the right). This is because they are doubly magic, meaning their protons and neutrons both fill their respective nuclear shells.

Nuclear Binding Energy

The region of increasing binding energy is followed by a region of relative stability (saturation) in the sequence from magnesium through xenon. In this region, the nucleus has become large enough that nuclear forces no longer completely extend efficiently across its width. Attractive nuclear forces in this region, as atomic mass increases, are nearly balanced by repellent electromagnetic forces between protons, as the atomic number increases.

The nucleus of these elements (including Magnesium) is not quite as stable. It would disintegrate into a nucleus of lower atomic number in absence of sufficient energy. But if a sufficient energy is provided, it will readily burn into a higher element. Once C,O and Ne burning starts, it triggers a chain of reactions:

Carbon Burning

Heavy elements like Magnesium are readily burning inside the shells of Carbon, Oxygen and Neon.

Onion Model

Here are some sources:

  1. Nucleosynthesis
  2. Nuclear Binding Energy
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    $\begingroup$ With the high temperature burning reactions (from neon onwards), as well as binding energies, you also need to consider the energy consumed by photodisintegration, as explained here: astronomy.stackexchange.com/a/36725/16685 $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 22:28

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