How Supernovas Formed Heavier Elements
With knowledge of the Big Bang creating lighter elements, such as hydrogen and helium, the question then becomes, “Where did the heavier elements come from?” Astrophysicists have believed that these heavier elements were created by supernova explosions. Due to the complexities of supernovae, astrophysicists have had difficulties making realistic computer simulations. However, recent experiments suggest that “astrophysicists are using the wrong data in their models” and that the “new results may have a great impact.”
In hopes to have a better understanding of supernova explosions and the formation of elements in supernovae, nuclear physicists at the University of Oslo measured the energy states of the elements iron and molybdenum.
In one of the experiments, the nuclear physicists shoot at a target consisting of iron, with helium ions. When a huge amount of energy is given to the iron nuclei, the protons and neutrons of the iron core are pushed into a new orbit. In the second experiment, helium is shot at molybdenum.
The atomic nuclei become highly excited and emit electromagnetic radiation. This radiation can be measured. The characteristics of the atomic nucleus appear to be different to what was previously thought.
In addition, nuclear physicist Ann-Cecilie Larsen points out,
We do not know what happens when nuclear reactions in supernova explosions move beyond the table of isotopes. In a matter of seconds, many exotic atoms are formed that do not exist on Earth and which quickly transform into stable elements. Since we have no data on these exotic nuclei, the astrophysicists have to make many assumptions about their properties.
Image courtesy of NASA