What is the cosmic history of element formation?

Research Areas:  A  |  B  |  C  |  D  |  E  |  F  |  G

Simulation of a Supernova (Simulation by Andreas Marek and Hans-Thomas Janka, MPA; visualization by Markus Rampp, RZG).

In Research Area G astrophysicists and nuclear physicists investigate the question on how the Universe was enriched with chemical elements beyond hydrogen and helium. All chemical elements known in the solar system and here on earth originate from the “production” of the Universe. Light elements such as hydrogen, helium and traces of lithium were already produced very early in the evolution of the Universe. Stars and stellar explosions are responsible for the existence of all heavy elements. Inside stars extremely high pressure and temperature conditions prevail where light atomic nuclei merge. This process is known as nuclear fusion.

Stars produce carbon, nitrogen and oxygen this way, just to name a few of the more common elements. Iron also develops in very massive stars. Elements heavier than iron cannot be fused together inside stars. Consequently, the energy source dries up, the star collapses and then explodes. During this process, heavy elements, e.g. gold, are formed and catapulted into the interstellar medium along with previously fused elements. There they become available again to the next generation of stars.

In addition, researchers in this area deal with processes involved in element formation which take place during a stellar explosion. In various nuclear reactions very heavy, radioactive elements are also produced, e.g. uranium. Cluster scientists are working with various methods: They measure processes in the interior of atomic nuclei and relate their findings to astronomical observations and to simulations of stellar explosions.

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Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Exzellenzcluster Universe

Boltzmannstr. 2
D-85748 Garching

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info@universe-cluster.de