Question about origins of elements

  1. how is it known that iron is formed in stars and not anything heavier? And how is it known that elements like uranium arent in fact formed in the cores of stars prior to supernova? answers much appreciated
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Vanadium 50

    Vanadium 50 17,944
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Neither of those statements are true. (Hence the "how is it known" part is superfluous)
     
  4. Uranium is formed in the cores of stars prior to a supernova?
     
  5. Vanadium 50

    Vanadium 50 17,944
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Maybe I am having trouble parsing all those negatives.
     
  6. so whats the evidence for the idea that elements heavier than iron dont form in the core of a star like al lthe others do? is it an assumption based on the fact that the binding energy of iron is higher than the released energy? is that all the evidence? i cant really think of how to search this through google
     
  7. malawi_glenn

    malawi_glenn 4,726
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    one can measure spectrum of stars and supernovae and find out which and how much elements there are.. how do we know that the sun is made up of mainly hydrogen? Well we look at and analyse the solar spectra...
     
  8. can solar spectra be used to determine that stars dont form heavier than iron like the rest of the elements? say if someone were to say that in fact elements heavier than iron DO form just like all the others, would there be much evidence or any to prove them wrong?
     
  9. malawi_glenn

    malawi_glenn 4,726
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    OMG didn't you understand that it was just an example? It was clearly linked to "how do we know that the sun is made up of mainly hydrogen?"

    Clearly, one should analyse other stellar spectra as well... DUH!
     
  10. Elements heavier than iron do form in the cores of stars, otherwise where would they come from? I think the idea is that no self-sustaining endothermic fusion reaction will create elements heavier than iron. So, we have to wait until the core collapses and dumps copious quantities of external energy into the existing iron and other heavy elements there, before exploding.

    We do the same thing in the laboratory by slamming say gold nuclei into tungsten targets. But exploding stars do it on a much grander scale.
     
  11. malawi_glenn

    malawi_glenn 4,726
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Supernovae ... r-process
     
  12. Haha! I'm not sure how to read this! I mean, that's what I said further down my post, so I'm not sure if you are correcting me, or confirming me! Haha!
     
  13. malawi_glenn

    malawi_glenn 4,726
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I could not understand the rest of that post, so I thought I just answer that question you posed ;-)
     
  14. Why? Was I that wrong? Or did I just not word it right?

    What I was saying is that nuclear fusion reactions can be self-sustaining using any fuel with nuclei less than the mass of iron. Nuclear fusion using elements heavier than iron can take place, but will not be self-sustaining because they actually require that energy be input. I think the terminology is that stars fuse elements exothermically (I said endo- in the other post incorrectly), and releasing energy. So stars with iron fuel cannot keep generating energy by creating elements heavier than iron.

    When a star goes supernova, some of the material is slammed into other material at energies great enough to cause elements heavier than iron to form. A sort of grand particle accelerator. Sound correct, or am I totally in the toilet?
     
  15. malawi_glenn

    malawi_glenn 4,726
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Yes it is correct, but now maybe even the OP can understand it :-)
     
  16. so is the whole idea that stars fuse only up to iron during their lifetimes backed up by stellar spectra observations? Or does that idea only come from the fact that anything heavier than irons not a self sustaning reaction.
     
  17. malawi_glenn

    malawi_glenn 4,726
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    (*sigh*) STELLAR spectra observations and of course nuclear theory, there is no such thing as "pure observation" and "pure theory" -> things always goes and in hand.

    So the story goes as follows: lead is the end-point of self sustaining thermonuclear reactions, theory statement. YET observations showed that stars DO contain heavier elements, and also elements heavier than Iron was found here on earth so.. So it was then realized that there are more mechanisms of element generation in stars, namely the s-process. And also one realized that one can have the r-process in supernovae. So one now had more theories, and those also made some sense! Of course, there are still some small unsolved problems but in total we have clear understanding on how the elements are formed in stars, it is a fine precision and delicate science.

    Expert litterature:
    http://www.amazon.com/Nuclear-Physi...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247167255&sr=8-1
    http://www.amazon.com/Cauldrons-Cosmos-Nuclear-Astrophysics-Theoretical/dp/0226724573/ref=pd_sim_b_1

    Have fun
     
  18. Chronos

    Chronos 10,053
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Actually, nickel is currently believed to be the heaviest element that can be formed end of the fusion cycle in ordinary stars. See
    http://helios.gsfc.nasa.gov/nucleo.html, and
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_burning_process
    Nucleosynthesis cannot account for elements heavier than Ni56 by current theories. The process would actually consume more energy than it produces, as already noted. Note also that once a star starts burning silicon, it is on its last legs. This process can only be sustained for a very short time before core collapse occurs.
     
  19. malawi_glenn

    malawi_glenn 4,726
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Yes, but in almost all introductory exposures, Iron is the element being mentioned.

    But as we already have discussed here, heavier elements can be synthesized in stars, via the s-process..
     
  20. http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2727
    perhaps the folks here havent heard of the s process even though it was figured out 50 years ago. They say one of the current questions in the universe is "How were the elements from iron to uranium made?" theyre physicists though. thats the thing with physics theres so much confusion about facts. what is known and how is all mixed up one persons says this another says that etc..
     
  21. maybe those physicists feel like the s-process wouldnt produce enough. it seems like the sprocess would be very slow and not yield much mass to explain all the elements. its hard to immagine all the elements forming one atom at a time through neutron capture, especially since it has to take place after iron forms which is near the end of a stars life. so theres a brief period after the iron cores formed - supernova where a very slow process can produce all the heavier elements. is it mathematically proven to be a fast enough process to account for the ammount of elements which are formed?by ammount i mean mass
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share a link to this question via email, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?