Scientists have found rare superheavy elements that cannot exist on Earth in stars

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
Stars can form elements heavier than uranium. Source: Illustrative photo

Scientists have discovered that some neutron stars contain elements heavier than uranium, which is considered the heaviest element on Earth. Previously, it was believed that such elements were simply not able to form in the natural environment.

This is stated in an article published in the journal Science. The discovered elements are extremely unstable and short-lived and usually do not exist on Earth.

The vast majority of the matter in the Universe consists of hydrogen and helium. Stars are capable of creating heavier elements, but they need to do the hard work of assembling their atomic nuclei. As a result, heavy elements such as uranium can be formed. But it seems that this is not the limit of the power of stars.

A team of scientists has found evidence that some neutron stars contain even heavier elements. The discovery was made when the authors studied a method of producing elements called the r-process.

Such processes can occur during certain extreme cosmic events, such as when giant stars go supernovae or neutron stars collide. During this r-process, the atomic nucleus can quickly assimilate neutrons. Then elements heavier than iron (element 26 in the periodic table) can be formed. However, scientists have never seen the formation of elements heavier than uranium (element 92) before.

Confirmation that stars can form such superheavy elements was first found during computer simulations of the r-process.

"It's not that we didn't expect this to happen, it's just that we didn't have a good idea how to find the signatures (traces or fingerprints - Ed.) that could confirm the picture we have," explained Ian Roederer, an astronomer at North Carolina State University (USA) and one of the authors of the paper.

Such superheavy elements are very unstable, so they can be split by a stray nucleus. However, the fact of their existence can be confirmed by finding the fragments of this splitting. We are talking about such elements as cadmium, tin, and tellurium.

Therefore, the researchers set out to find them using the Hubble Space Telescope.

For the study, 42 neutron stars were selected, which, according to scientists, were the product of a merger. When the ultraviolet spectra of these neutron stars were analyzed, the signatures of the necessary elements were found.

As Inverse explains, uranium-238 is the most abundant uranium isotope on Earth. It has an atomic mass of 238, which explains its name. But in nature, this atomic mass can be higher. For example, some uranium-bearing rocks contain traces of plutonium-244. Thus, traces of einsteinium-254 and fermium-255 (elements 99 and 100) were found in the aftermath of the first-ever hydrogen bomb test.

Elements beyond 100 have an atomic nucleus with a weight of 260 or more and can be detected only in laboratory conditions. But they were too unstable and short-lived to be studied thoroughly even then.

Now, as Roederer explains, scientists have the opportunity to use the stars to investigate how these elements are formed and the nature of the physics that creates these elements for such a short period.

"Looking at the stars can give us a way to explore these questions that were previously inaccessible to our experiments here on Earth," the scientist summarized.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA reported that scientists have discovered energy blades that can cut stars in half.

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