The universe is losing its grip: ancient stars created such heavy elements that do not exist in nature today

A team of astronomers led by a specialist from the University of Michigan studied 42 old stars in the Milky Way and came to a surprising conclusion. At the very dawn of time, stars could create elements much heavier than anything that had ever been found naturally on Earth or in the Universe in general. This will force a new look at the evolution of stars and the Universe.

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Today, transuranium elements, or elements with an atomic mass greater than 260, are created only in laboratories. But even synthesized they are destroyed very quickly. The decay process produces a spectrum of common heavy and widespread elements. In the old stars of our galaxy studied by astronomers, the chemical compositions of which have been studied thoroughly, an abundance of such elements was discovered – “fragments” of the decay of transuranium elements that do not exist today in free form.

It is important to note that the heavy elements discovered in old stars could not appear there as a result of nuclear fusion in the cores of stars (in principle, nothing heavier than iron is synthesized there). Heavier elements are synthesized at higher energies, which are released as a result of supernova and kilonova explosions. These processes are so fast that they are called r-processes (rapid). In particularly extreme cases, chemical elements with atomic masses above 260 are apparently synthesized. These elements then rapidly decay to form less heavy atoms, such as ruthenium, rhodium, palladium and silver.

Scientists have proven that in the observed stars the desired chemical elements were formed in the process of nuclear fission, and not directly in the r-process (fusion). This is evidenced by the complex chemical composition of stars and group analysis. Thus, it seems that at the dawn of the Universe, ancient stars could generate elements with an atomic mass of over 260, which is not observed anywhere today.

“It’s interesting because we haven’t previously found anything this heavy in space or naturally on Earth, even with nuclear weapons testing,” – say the authors of the work, published In the magazine Science. “But observing them in space gives us insight into how to think about patterns and division, and can give us insight into how such a rich variety of elements came to be.”

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