Results from experiments at CERN and the Jyväskylä Accelerator Laboratory in Finland, reported in Nature today, cast new light on the primary reaction that creates carbon in stars. All the carbon in the Universe, including that needed for carbon-based life forms such as ourselves, has been made in the hearts of stars through what is known as the “triple alpha reaction”. The new findings modify the rate at which the reaction occurs and have broad implications for astrophysics, from the formation of the first stars to the creation of the heaviest elements in supernovae.
"The connection between the subatomic world and the cosmos is fascinating. The example of carbon is an old problem with contributions from many heroes in the field. It is a pleasure to be able to answer some of the questions they have left for us. It is the technological development in the intervening years, for example at ISOLDE, that has made this possible," says from Hans Fynbo of the University of Aarhus, lead author of the paper.
The big bang created mainly only hydrogen (mass 1) and helium (mass 4), because there are no long lived atomic nuclei with mass 5 and 8 to make the bridge to heavier elements such as carbon (mass 12). But in the hearts of stars the formation of carbon is possible through the triple-alpha reaction, where three helium nuclei (alpha particles) fuse to make to make a nucleus of carbon-12.
James Gillies | alfa
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