Deanna McCool | January 4, 2018
Notre Dame Chair in Astrophysics Timothy C. Beers collaborated with Anna Frebel, associate professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on a review article about the formation of the heaviest elements in the universe. The article, about the cosmic origins of the rapid neutron-capture process (the r-process), was published Jan. 2, 2018, in Physics Today.
The article, “The formation of the heaviest elements,” describes how the r-process has built up elements heavier than iron, and that the process is now believed to take place primarily in neutron-star mergers.
The observation of a neutron star merger in August 2017 was named Science magazine’s scientific breakthrough of the year. The concept of the r-process was first suggested in 1957, when astrophysicists theorized that the universe’s heaviest elements are formed through a series of reactions, and later suggested this could possibly occur when two neutron stars collide. Though early research pointed to the possibility that the r-process originates in supernovae, Beers’ and Frebel’s paper describes that the supernova theory should be ruled out, following new observations of one ultrafaint dwarf galaxy.