Reassessing the Synthesis of Cerium in Stars

Cerium, a rare Earth metal, is a key element in various technological applications, such as lightbulbs and flat-screen TVs. Despite its rarity in Earth’s crust, it is more abundant in the universe. However, the process of cerium synthesis in stars remains largely unknown. A recent study by the n_TOF collaboration at CERN delves into this mystery, shedding light on the production of cerium in stellar environments.

The study challenges existing theories by revealing unexpected nuclear resonances in the energy range crucial for cerium synthesis. This discovery indicates a significant gap in current understanding of how cerium and other heavy elements are formed in the universe. Simone Amaducci, the lead author of the study, highlights the importance of the high-energy resolution of the experimental apparatus at CERN in uncovering these novel findings.

The abundance of heavy elements in stars, including cerium, can be explained by the slow (s) and rapid (r) neutron capture processes. While the s process is believed to contribute substantially to the production of cerium, the new data challenges this assumption. The scientists at CERN utilized the Neutron Time-of-Flight facility to study the nuclear reaction of cerium 140 with neutrons, shedding light on the synthesis of heavy elements in stellar environments.

The discrepancy between theoretical models and observational data of cerium in stars raises questions about the chemical composition of the universe. Sergio Cristallo, who proposed the experiment, highlights the significant deviations between the new nuclear data and existing databases. This discrepancy calls for a reevaluation of current theories of cerium nucleosynthesis and underscores the need to consider additional physical processes in stellar evolution calculations.

The study’s findings have profound astrophysical implications, suggesting a revision in the contribution of the s process to the abundance of cerium in the universe. This paradigm shift challenges conventional wisdom and prompts a reexamination of the chemical evolution of galaxies. By expanding our knowledge of cerium synthesis in stars, scientists can deepen their understanding of the production of heavy elements in the universe and its impact on galactic evolution.

Science

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