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How to make strontium: Collide two neutron stars and stay *way* back

24 Oct 2019, 13:00 UTC
How to make strontium: Collide two neutron stars and stay *way* back
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On 17 August, 2017, astronomers detected an event they had long suspected could happen but had never seen before: the catastrophic merger of two neutron stars. Born billions of years before and orbiting each other ever since as a binary system, they had slowly spiraled closer together until they finally crashed into one another. The force of the merger literally shook the fabric of space-time — they generated gravitational waves that were the first sign of the event — and collapsed them into a black hole.

It also generated a massive explosion that was far brighter than a regular nova, but something less than a supernova; what astronomers call a kilonova. This had been long predicted but never seen. The huge burst of light fades rapidly, so catching one when it's still bright is incredibly difficult.

This explosion also seemed to solve a major mystery in astronomy: The creation of r-process elements. We see lots of elements like barium, gold, silver, platinum, and so on in the Earth, and we know they must be made in some sort of hugely explosive event, but how, exactly? To make them you need to bombard other atoms with lots and lots (and lots) ...

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