The drama of a neutron-star merger

To that end, the discovery gets two links -- and a long excerpt. Here's Akshat Rathi:

To forge new stable elements, you need extreme amounts of energy that will crush and put the sub-atomic components of elements—protons, electrons, and neutrons—together in new configurations. (Remember, an element differs from another merely because it has a different number of protons.)
So the next obvious candidate would be our neighborhood star. The sun is large and exacts tremendous pressure. Might it produce all of the elements in the periodic table? Nope, our sun is too small for the kinds of energy needed to produce heavier elements. The only elements you can find on the sun are hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, and boron. We have to look elsewhere for the origins of the remaining 89 elements that naturally occur on Earth.
Are the sources something larger? Yes and no. We know that stars that are at least 10 times the mass of our sun are able to make some more elements and some are made in exploding stars. These include those with atomic numbers between carbon and zirconium. That still leaves 54 other elements.
Scientists have theorized that these remaining elements are made in even more violent celestial events—and now they have proof. Today (Oct. 16), in a series of papers published in many landmark journals, hundreds of scientists tell the story of observing one of the most epic events in the universe: the violent merger of two neutron stars.
The drama of a neutron-star merger is due to the fact that it involves one of the most extreme objects in the universe. Neutron stars are some of the smallest, densest stars we know. They do not have much more mass than our sun, but all of it is compressed into a ball no bigger than the width of a mid-sized city (about 15 km, or 9 miles). That’s a lot of compression. A teaspoon of neutron star would weigh 10 billion kg (or 22 billion lbs)—about the same as 1 million very large elephants.


Want to receive more content like this in your inbox?