Researchers observe fission of cosmic nuclei for the first time

Nuclear fusion occurs virtually everywhere in the universe. In the sun, hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium, releasing energy and making life on Earth possible. However, nuclear fission is a different story and has never been observed in space before. Astronomers are currently studying nuclear fission in the universe. “People thought nuclear fission happened in space, but no one has been able to prove it yet,” said Matthew Manpower, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

He and other researchers looked at data on various elements in very old stars. They found the first indication that when neutron stars merge, their atomic nuclei also split. These discoveries could help solve the mystery of the origin of heavy elements in the universe. Nature has the ability to produce superheavy atomic nuclei that exceed the heaviest elements on the periodic table. However, its lifespan is very short. Heavy elements can also be created by nuclear fusion. The heaviest of these is iron, which has 26 protons and 30 neutrons. Until now, it was thought that heavier elements were formed in rare supernova explosions or when two neutron stars merged. Neutron stars form when massive stars run out of the fuel needed for nuclear fusion. It will collapse under its own gravity. A star with twice the mass of the Sun would be compressed to the size of a sphere about 20 kilometers in diameter. This decay occurs so quickly that the electrons and protons become so packed together that they form neutrons, which gives nova their name. One tablespoon of this mass would weigh more than 1 billion tons on Earth.

When two neutron stars collide, a large amount of neutrons are released. These free neutrons are captured by other surrounding nuclei, forming superheavy but unstable elements. These superheavy elements are broken down into lighter and more stable elements, such as gold, through nuclear fission. Light metals such as ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, and silver and rare earth nuclei such as europium, gadolinium, dysprosium, and holmium are produced. At least that’s the theory so far. Researchers have now examined 42 stars and found that these elements are present in the exact proportions that indicate nuclear fission. Every time nature creates a silver atom, it also creates an equal proportion of heavier rare earth nuclei. Scientists have discovered that there is only one mechanism involved: nuclear fission.