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Do Neutron Star Mergers Create Heavy Elements?! | How the Universe Works

Neutron star mergers are believed to be a significant source of heavy elements in the universe. When two neutron stars merge, a violent and energetic process known as a kilonova occurs, releasing a huge amount of energy in the form of light and heat. This process also creates extremely high temperatures and pressures that can cause the synthesis of heavy elements through a process called rapid neutron capture, or the r-process.

During the r-process, free neutrons are rapidly captured by atomic nuclei, creating unstable, neutron-rich isotopes of elements beyond iron that decay into stable, heavy elements. Many of the elements in the periodic table that are heavier than iron, such as gold, platinum, and uranium, are believed to be produced primarily through the r-process in neutron star mergers.

In 2017, the detection of gravitational waves from a neutron star merger was accompanied by the observation of a kilonova, which provided strong evidence for the role of neutron star mergers in the production of heavy elements. The observations confirmed that heavy elements were indeed produced in the merger, including gold and platinum, and suggested that neutron star mergers may be responsible for producing up to half of the elements heavier than iron in the universe.

Scientist examine the gamma ray emissions of a neutron star merger in order to see if it causes the creation of heavy elements such as Iridium, Gold, and Lead.

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