Jessica Sieff | July 13, 2017
Nuclear astrophysicists successfully created the first low-energy particle accelerator beam deep underground in the United States, bringing them one step closer to understanding how the elements of our universe are built.
Through the project, called CASPAR (Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research), researchers will recreate the nuclear fusion processes responsible for energy generation and elemental production in stars, to understand more about how stars burn and what elements they create while doing so.
CASPAR is one of only two underground accelerators in the world, located at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), in Lead, South Dakota.
The other, the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics (LUNA) is located in Italy, near Gran Sasso mountain.
“Installing and operating accelerators underground is a considerable challenge,” said Michael Wiescher, Freimann Professor of Nuclear Physics at the University of Notre Dame. “CASPAR is unique since it covers a broader energy range than the LUNA accelerator. It allows us, for the first time, to explore reactions of stellar helium burning, which take place in stars like Betelgeuse, at laboratory conditions. Through these studies, we will learn about the origin of oxygen and carbon as the most important ingredients of biological life in the universe, and we will learn about the mechanisms stars have developed to produce gradually heavier elements through neutron fusion processes.”
Wiescher and Research Assistant Professor Dan Robertson are leading the team from Notre Dame, working in collaboration with researchers from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and the Colorado School of Mines.