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  • 31 December, 2023

  • 3 Min Read

Kilonova Explosions

Kilonova explosions from neutron star collisions could explain how Earth got gold.

  • When some type of massive stars die, the nuclear fusion process that fuels them stops.
  • This forms an ultra-dense and neutron rich star.

A neutron star is the remnant of a collapsed supergiant star that was between 10 and 25 times the mass of our Sun.

  • When such stars collide with each other, these free neutrons are released into space and taken up by atoms to form very heavy elements beyond the scope of the periodic table.
  • The collision of these ultra-dense, dead stars causes ripples in the very fabric of space-time, called gravitational waves.

In physics, space-time is any mathematical model that fuses the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional continuum.

  • The collision also causes high-energy gamma-ray bursts and a flash of light (Kilonova) which can be detected across large distances in space.

Gold and other metals heavier than iron are formed in space when two neutron stars collide.

Neutron Capture Process

Rapid Neutron Capture Process (R-Process)

  • Neutron capture, type of nuclear reaction in which a target nucleus absorbs a neutron (uncharged particle), then emits a discrete quantity of electromagnetic energy (gamma-ray photon).
  • The target nucleus and the product nucleus are isotopes, or forms of the same element.
  • The heavier isotope that results may be radioactive, so that neutron capture, which occurs with almost any nucleus, is a common way of producing radioactive isotopes.
  • Neutron capture is also named neutron-gamma because of the prompt emission of only electromagnetic radiation.
  • The r-process, is a set of nuclear reactions that is responsible for the creation of approximately half of the atomic nuclei heavier than iron, the heavy elements, with the other half produced by the p-process and s-process.
  • P-process - It is initiated by the passage of the supernova shock wave and acts via photodisintegration reactions like a spallation process which produces neighboring (proton-rich) isotopes from pre-existing heavy nuclei.
  • S-process - In the s-process, a seed nucleus undergoes neutron capture to form an isotope with one higher atomic mass.

Among the natural elements, boron, cadmium, and gadolinium are the best absorbers of slow neutrons by the capture process.


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