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Strontium detection confirms heavy elements form in neutron star mergers

25 Oct 2019, 15:05 UTC
Strontium detection confirms heavy elements form in neutron star mergers
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The first spectroscopic evidence that heavy elements are created by the merger of two neutron stars has been found by an international team of scientists. By analysing light captured by the Very Large Telescope in Chile, the team has shown that strontium was produced in a huge “kilonova” explosion that followed such a merger. As well as confirming that neutron-star mergers are a significant source of heavy elements, the study also provides the first spectroscopic evidence that neutron stars comprise neutron-rich matter.

Physicists already know that hydrogen and helium were created shortly after the big bang and that heavier elements up to and including iron are formed by nuclear fusion within stars. But the origins of the 64 naturally occurring elements heavier than iron have been difficult to pin down. One potential source is asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars, which are cool and luminous objects. The slow neutron capture process (s-process) of nucleosynthesis is believed to occur in these stars, creating about half of the heavy elements in the universe.
The other half is believed to be created by the rapid neutron capture process (r-process) of nucleosynthesis. This requires an enormous flux of neutrons and is thought to ...

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