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In my story, a group of human colonists are set to colonize a distant planet. But on their way there, the fusion drive on the ship stop functioning when they enter an uncharted system, and they crash on a planet. Some of the colonists manage to survive and eventually figure out that there's a mysterious "field" that's preventing fusion from happening. The field was deployed by an ancient civilization on the planet, and it is expanding and will eventually extinguish the sun.

So my question is, what are the plausible mechanisms behind such a fusion prevention field? My story is not "hard" sci-fi and we can assume that the said civilization is sufficiently advanced.

I think a possible solution is to say the field slightly decreases the strong nuclear force within it, and thus making fusion harder. But I am not sure if such a field will outright kill our colonists or have other consequences.

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    $\begingroup$ The energy barrier for fusion is not caused by the strong interaction but by electromagnetic forces. Weakening the strong force will make the final product less stable (potentially destroying all compound matter), but will not significantly increase "how difficult it is for protons to come together". And to me, having a magic device that dials down one of the four fundamental interactions through mysterious means doesn't feel much more satisfying than a magic device that turns off fusion through mysterious means (it just transposes the magic to another step) $\endgroup$ Aug 5, 2022 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ As always the first question you should ask is 'do you need to explain it'? Just like in so many stories you just need a macguffin. Often it doesn't need to be explained. It can stay a mysterious, unexplained force of which you can see some effects. Mainly that the fusion reactor stops working. You already have suspension of disbelief by creating the device. Explaining it might work against this as people then would start to question it. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Aug 5, 2022 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ At least messing with electroweak force is plain prohibited, otherwise there will be no survivors, as chemistry depends on electric charge and its effects too heavily. I'd say make your field increase strong interaction instead, this way your ship's fusion reactor will instead overheat and blow up, provided fusion in it is "hot", whatever safety device on the ship will interfere preventing the ship from blowing up, but recovering the reactor after dismantling the field will be a problem. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Aug 5, 2022 at 8:00
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    $\begingroup$ I have to amend my previous comment that I wrote too fast. Decreasing the strong interaction will indeed increase the thickness and height of the energy barrier for fusion, tho not as effectively as if you messed with the EM force. The problem of the magic remains(which is not necessarily a problem if you decide it isn't), and depending on the intensity of the "field", you might destroy all matter. At the very least, the rate of nuclear decay of everything will increase. Which means everything will be more radoactive. $\endgroup$ Aug 5, 2022 at 8:10

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A very very strong magnetic field will do.

If you tweak any other physical property you would have two main problems:

  1. Tweaking fundamental constants or forces would affect all matter, not just the fusion drive on the ship. The fine balance of strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces are needed to retain all proper chemistry and particle physics.
  2. Realism - If you are after real, we do know how to create magnetic fields. But we don't really know how to change fundamental forces as you describe.

So what does a very strong magnetic field do? All fusion drives must use very strong, finely tuned and balanced magnetic fields to create the desired thrust. A unknown and incredibly strong magnetic field will distort the proper operation of the drive to become initially less optimal at the start, to finally disabled as the field intensifies.

Even better, if your ship also uses a fusion reactor for power, it is likely that to create a fusion reaction a very strong magnetic field is required to contain the fusion elements compressed in a very small space (such as a Topomak). An external magnetic field of sufficient power and intensity could distort the finely tuned magnetic fields enabling the fusion process, and either safety auto-shutdown or mechanical failure could be a distinct possibility on board the ship.

Plus there have been observations of astronomical objects with colossal magnetic fields. Neutron stars, Pulsars and magnetars, would be quite dangerous to spacecraft from a much further distance than their gravitational fields would be dangerous.

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Fusion in the sun happens through a combination of factors. Heat causes the matter inside to slam into one another at high speeds, pressure keeps all of that matter compact and close together while the sheer volume provides all the matter/fuel you need.

And all of these combined would not create fusion. They just increase the chances for the last component for fusion: quantum mechanics. Because of the sheer mass of high-speed collisions in a high pressure environment of a sun the chance that particles accidentally quantum tunnel into each other and fuse increases enough for it to power our sun. If your fusion reactor uses similar principles (substituting mass for heat and pressure) then you could imagine a quantum shenanigan capable of changing the quantum tunnel chance in an increasing volume around the planet.

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  • $\begingroup$ Based on this description of how fusion works, perhaps it'd be best for the field to interfere with quantum tunneling. I suspect that would have little effect on living creatures, and I also bet that a super-advanced race would have lots of reasons for wanting to control tunneling, which creates opportunities to explain the existence of the field. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Aug 6, 2022 at 15:42

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