Ancient stars may have forged superheavy elements unknown to science

Ancient stars may have forged superheavy elements unknown to science
Scientists have found evidence that ancient stars were able to produce mysterious superheavy elements
Scientists have found evidence that ancient stars were able to produce mysterious superheavy elements
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Scientists have found evidence that ancient stars were able to produce mysterious superheavy elements
Scientists have found evidence that ancient stars were able to produce mysterious superheavy elements

Scientists have uncovered hints of a world of new elements beyond the periodic table. A new study has found that ancient stars may have been producing extremely heavy elements that remain unknown to science.

We owe the rich diversity of elements in the universe today to stars. These cosmic factories take elements from their environment and fuse them together to produce new ones, and when the stars eventually die they spread the fruits of their labor throughout the universe. That provides the next generation of stars with a more advanced slate to start with, allowing them to produce ever-heavier elements.

But what’s the limit to this process, and how heavy can an element get? Those questions were the focus of a new study by scientists at North Carolina State University.

Elements are said to be heavier or lighter depending on their atomic mass, which is defined as the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of a single atom of that element. The heaviest element that’s naturally occurring in meaningful quantities is uranium, with an atomic mass of 238 u. But the new study found evidence written in the stars of mysterious elements with atomic masses of over 260 u.

The heaviest elements are produced through what’s called the r-process, which can only take place in the extreme environments of neutron stars. Essentially, an atomic nucleus floating around in the star becomes flooded with neutrons in fractions of a second, before some of those neutrons are converted to protons. That results in an atom of a heavy element like platinum or uranium.

“The r-process is necessary if you want to make elements that are heavier than, say, lead and bismuth,” said Ian Roederer, lead author of the study. “You have to add many neutrons very quickly, but the catch is that you need a lot of energy and a lot of neutrons to do so. And the best place to find both are at the birth or death of a neutron star, or when neutron stars collide and produce the raw ingredients for the process.”

The team examined the composition of 42 well-studied stars in the Milky Way that are known to contain heavy elements forged in earlier generations of stars. Rather than looking at each star individually, the researchers studied the abundances of elements collectively across the group, and spotted patterns that had previously been missed.

Certain elements, including ruthenium, rhodium, palladium and silver, were found to be abundant in these stars, but elements right next to them on the periodic table didn’t have these same correlations. This, the team says, is evidence that these elements were formed by much heavier elements decaying. Working backwards, the researchers calculated that the starting heavy elements would have had atomic masses of at least 260 u.

“That 260 is interesting because we haven’t previously detected anything that heavy in space or naturally on Earth, even in nuclear weapon tests,” said Roederer. “But seeing them in space gives us guidance for how to think about models and fission – and could give us insight into how the rich diversity of elements came to be.”

Scientists have long theorized that there probably are more elements beyond the periodic table, but their atomic masses render them unstable, so they would quickly decay into lighter elements. That of course makes finding and studying them extremely tricky – the heaviest known element, oganesson, has an atomic mass of 294 u and only five atoms of it have ever been produced in the lab.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: NCSU

When I studied physics years ago, the theory was that it took generations of stars to create the heavy elements. Now instead of novae and super novae, all they talk about are black holes forming from any stars much larger than our sun which would negate the formation of heavier elements. Astrophysics seems to be very uncertain right now since the James Webb telescope is shredding their theories daily.
Expanded Viewpoint
Back in 1970 or so, an astronomer finally wrote up his 20 year long study of the spectrographs of stars, thousands upon thousands of them, and said that in all of that time, he couldn't come up with even just two that were anywhere near being close to each other, let alone the same! That means that there was no "Big Bang" where all of the stars and other matter suddenly sprang into existence out of some mysterious singularity, because if it did happen that way, there would be homogeneity to some degree, instead of NONE! Granted that larger stars would possibly create heavier elements due to gravitational forces at their core than smaller ones would, but that couldn't account for the disparity like we see!
But the bigger question to answer, is from WHERE did all of the matter that makes up Hydrogen, the simplest element there is, come from?? And an even bigger question than that, is what is it that contains everything we can see? How far does space go, and what is on the other side of the walls?
It is interesting to note all the armchair physicists and astrophysicists on this forum. Yes, we are still learning more about our Universe, and the Webb Telescope is allowing for more clarity in which theories - and why - are probable or are not probable. The only uncertainty in Astrophysics is what theories will be left after the boon of discoveries are analyzed. There is very little shredding going on, just a lot of clarification.
I recall reading many years ago that the theory that governs the stability of heavy elements and their isotopes suggested that there may be stable "superheavy" elements that we have never observed- atomic numbers in the "200" range.
This would have been a good article to at least mention Element 115 that was, supposedly, gifted to us by some extraterrestrials. The attempts to synthesize this heavy metal (again, supposedly) yielded an unstable substance that existed for a very short while.
and so maybe one day it will shift yet again, all nom
then they'll too look up and say "hey, some things seem to be gone"
@Karmudjun I'd say the Big Bang that astrophysicists have been preaching as absolute fact is getting pretty shredded right now. The expansion theory, dark matter and dark energy which were invented to prop up the Big bang don't look very viable right now. My theory that the universe is more to the order of 50-100 billion years old and that older generations of ordinary cold burnt out stars are the real dark matter and their gravity explain dark energy makes more sense. I may well be wrong but I am a real physicist are you?