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Astronomers identify first heavy element made from neutron star merger

Scientists have observed the birth of a heavy element from a neutron star collision

By Jak Connor from Oct 24, 2019 @ 1:34 CDT

Scientists have for the first time observed the birth of a heavy element from the ruins of a collision between two neutron stars.


Astronomers used ESO's X-shooter spectrograph on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to observe the neutron star merger called GW170817. Originally, astronomers suspected that if heavier elements would be produced from a merger between neutron stars, that those elements would be present in the explosive aftermath.

The technical term for an neutron star colliding with another neutron star and the explosion it creates afterwards is called 'kilonova'. European researchers pointed their telescopes at GW170817's kilonova and what X-shooter was able to find was a presence of heavy elements, and more precisely the presence of the element strontium. Darach Watson from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark said "By reanalysing 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."

If you are interested in reading a full breakdown of the discovery and the history behind reanalyzing 2017's merger data, more can be found here.

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