Strontium Indicates Neutron Star Collisions Made Universe’s Heavy Elements

Recently, a team of astronomers found for the first time Strontium in a kilonova. The element appeared after a collision between two neutron stars. Such findings will lead researchers to a better understanding of how heavy elements develop.

In 2017 were noticed some gravitational waves resulted from the merger of two neutron stars. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave (LIGO), and the European VIRGO observatory identified the event, called GW170817, which reached almost 130 million light-years away in the galaxy NGC 4993.

Various wavelengths from he kilonova, known as AT2017gfo, were analyzed by the European Southern Observatory. The X-shooter, however, was the one that offered closer insights and the presence of heavier elements in the kilonova.

New Results and Discoveries

Darach Watson, lead author of the study “Identification of strontium in the merger of two neutron stars”, has now new results from GW170817. Until now, it couldn’t be identified as individual elements. Watson said that “By reanalyzing the 2017 data from the merger, we have now identified the signature of one heavy element in this fireball, strontium, proving that the collision of neutron stars creates this element in the Universe.”

He further explained how the processes that developed the elements started mostly in ordinary stars, such as supernova explosions or some outer layers of old stars. Moreover, there are two types of neutron capture, rapid and slow. These types can develop almost half of the elements heavier than iron. The rapid type, however, is responsible for making heavy elements. The study indicates how kilonovae represents the ideal place for rapid neutron to create those elements. Also, kilonova is the only one able to gather many neutrons, letting rapid neutrons in. Camilla Juul Hansen from the Max Planck Insitute from Astronomy said, “…neutron stars are made of neutrons and tying the long-debated rapid neutron capture process to such mergers.”

The new study succeeds in filling some astronomical gaps of astronomers’ understanding of the nature of neutron stars by confirming it.

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