What are kilonovae and how are they formed?

kilonova formation

It has been estimated that about 80 million years ago, before the formation of our solar system, a kilonova just 1.000 light years from us. This kilonova, which resulted from the explosion of a neutron star, was responsible for the creation of some of the heaviest elements found on Earth and in meteorites. These elements include actinides such as uranium, plutonium and fermium, as well as certain elements from groups 10 and 11 of the periodic table, such as platinum and gold.

In this article we are going to tell you what a kilonova is, what the nature of a neutron star is and why they occur in precious metals such as gold and platinum.

What is a kilonova

kilonova in space

When two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole combine, the result is a kilonova. This fusion explosion produces unique elements that can only form in such a specific event.

The rise of interest in nuclear physics during the 1930s and the subsequent focus on nuclear energy in the 1950s facilitated a shift from geochemistry to astrochemistry, which it allowed us to explore chemical investigations through the lens of astrophysics rather than geology. This transition paved the way for the study of the elements of the periodic table in relation to celestial bodies such as stars and even galaxies. Consequently, we were finally able to address long-standing scientific investigations, such as the origin of precious metals such as gold and platinum, the formation of elements found in the Sun and meteorites, and the presence of certain elements of the periodic table in the atmospheres of distant stars beyond the Milky Way.

The formation of elements heavier than iron, excluding hydrogen, helium and lithium, occurs through a process called nucleosynthesis, which It predominantly takes place in the explosion of massive stars known as supernovae. Normally, nucleosynthesis ceases in iron due to limitations in nuclear reactions and problems with the stellar core.

However, there are elements besides iron that are significantly rich in neutrons, which begs the question: where do these elements originate? The answer lies in the connection between these elements and neutron stars. To delve deeper into this realm of kilonovae and uncover the explanation, we must understand the crucial role they play. the intense neutron fluxes, which introduce nucleons into the nuclei. These investigations, among others, have promoted the establishment of the International Space Station.

When a neutron star detonates, the decay of neutrons through beta radioactivity transforms them into protons. This essential process allows the formation of elements that surpass iron in the periodic table.

Kilonovas and their relationship with the r process


The fast neutron capture process, also known as the r-process, takes place exclusively within supernovae. This process involves a series of nuclear reactions, known as nucleosynthesis, which are responsible for producing more than 50% of atomic nuclei that are heavier than iron. After millions of years of synthesis, these nuclei are finally released into the stellar environment. From there they contribute to the formation of new stars, which in turn give rise to stable planetary systems.

Despite the extensive theoretical knowledge available, It was a major challenge to understand the prevalence of specific elements, such as gold and platinum. This perplexity persisted until it was discovered that the necessary neutron fluxes could be attributed to collisions of neutron stars, leading to the formation of kilonovae.

Currently, by using cosmochemical observation models, we can quantify the abundance of elements within the Milky Way, consequently determining the presence of gold and platinum in meteorites and other celestial bodies. This allows us to establish connections between various elements and past astrophysical events. Additionally, some of these events offer an explanation for the origin of Polaris, a distinctive and easily identifiable star in the night sky.

Kilonova from an explosion

explosion in space

Could a kilonova, caused by an explosion that occurred 1.000 light years away from the proto-Sun, be a possibility? To delve deeper into the origins of gold and platinum within our solar system, it is essential to recognize astrophysicists Imre Bartos of the University of Florida and Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University. His contributions to the field are fundamental due to the numerous publications surrounding the topic.the origin of gold and platinum on Earth«. These publications not only explore the general origins but also delve into the specific origins of the actinides, a group of elements made up of 15 chemical elements ranging from Actinium Ac (#89) to Lawrencium Lr (#103).

Actinides, known for their highly radioactive and heavy nature, include well-known elements such as uranium (#92), thorium (#90), and plutonium (#94). These three elements are very famous because they are the most abundant among their counterparts on our planet.

Let's delve into the research conducted by astrophysicists Bartos and Marka, who used advanced computer technology to examine the prevalence of actinides in numerous Meteorites within our solar system. Their findings revealed that approximately 80 million years before the formation of our solar system, An explosion of a neutron star occurred at a distance of 1.000 light years. This cataclysmic event played a major role in the abundance of precious metals such as gold, platinum, mercury, and platinum within our planetary system.

As you can see, research into the universe provides more and more information about the formation and origin of everything. I hope that with this information you can learn more about what a kilonova is, its formation, characteristics and much more.

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