Evidence found for the production of tellurium in neutron star mergers

This article was first published in Physics World Magazine

Physicists in Japan and Lithuania have found evidence that tellurium is produced in neutron star mergers. Their findings bolster the idea that neutron star mergers are responsible for most of the heavy elements in the universe.

Common trends: researchers at the University of Tokyo have used data taken by telescopes such as the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico (pictured here in 2019) to uncover similarities between fast radio bursts and earthquakes (Courtesy: UCF)

The synthesis of heavy nuclei – those heavier than silver – is described by a set of nuclear reaction know as the “r-process” or rapid neutron-capture process. First proposed in 1957, it occurs in an environment with a large density of free neutrons, whereby nuclei begin to capture neutrons much faster than the rate at which they can beta-decay. This produces a characteristic distribution of neutron-rich nuclei, with peaks around certain atomic mass numbers such as 80, 130 and 196.

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