Origin of the heaviest elements: The rapid neutron-capture process

Cowan, John J. and Sneden, Christopher and Lawler, James E. and Aprahamian, Ani and Wiescher, Michael and Langanke, Karlheinz and Martinez-Pinedo, Gabriel and Thielemann, Friedrich-Karl. (2021) Origin of the heaviest elements: The rapid neutron-capture process. Reviews of Modern Physics, 93 (1). 015002.

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The production of about half of the heavy elements found in nature is assigned to a specific astrophysical nucleosynthesis process: the rapid neutron-capture process (r process). Although this idea was postulated more than six decades ago, the full understanding faces two types of uncertainties or open questions: (a) The nucleosynthesis path in the nuclear chart runs close to the neutron-drip line, where presently only limited experimental information is available, and one has to rely strongly on theoretical predictions for nuclear properties. (b) While for many years the occurrence of the r process has been associated with supernovae, where the innermost ejecta close to the central neutron star were supposed to be neutron rich, more recent studies have cast substantial doubts on this environment. Possibly only a weak r process, with no or negligible production of the third r -process peak, can be accounted for, while much more neutron-rich conditions, including an r -process path with fission cycling, are likely responsible for the majority of the heavy r -process elements. Such conditions could result during the ejection of initially highly neutron-rich matter, as found in neutron stars, or during the fast ejection of matter that has previously experienced strong electron captures at high densities. Possible scenarios are the mergers of neutron stars, neutron-star-black hole mergers, but also include rare classes of supernovae as well as hypernovae or collapsars with polar jet ejecta, and possibly also accretion disk outflows related to the collapse of fast rotating massive stars. The composition of the ejecta from each event determines the temporal evolution of the r -process abundances during the "chemical" evolution of the Galaxy. Stellar r -process abundance observations have provided insight into and constraints on the frequency of and conditions in the responsible stellar production sites. One of them, neutron-star mergers, was just identified thanks to the observation of the r -process kilonova electromagnetic transient following the gravitational wave event GW170817. These observations, which are becoming increasingly precise due to improved experimental atomic data and high-resolution observations, have been particularly important in defining the heavy element abundance patterns of the old halo stars, and thus in determining the extent and nature of the earliest nucleosynthesis in the Galaxy. Combining new results and important breakthroughs in the related nuclear, atomic, and astronomical fields of science, this review attempts to answer the question "How were the elements from iron to uranium made?"
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Physik > Former Organization Units Physics > Theoretische Physik Astrophysik (Thielemann)
UniBasel Contributors:Thielemann, Friedrich-Karl
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Further Journal Contribution
Publisher:American Physical Society
e-ISSN: 1539-0756
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal item
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Last Modified:12 Apr 2022 10:27
Deposited On:12 Apr 2022 10:27

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