Heavy Metal

Where do the heavy elements on the periodic table come from?  The general answer is from what’s called the r-process of stellar nucleosynthesis.   This translates to ‘rapid neutron capture’ being the method by which most of the elements heavier than Iron are formed on the periodic table.  This process requires immense energy and was originally thought to only occur within core-collapse supernova explosions. “Understanding how heavy, r-process elements are formed is one of hardest problems in nuclear physics,” said Anna Frebel, assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and also a member of...

A Lonely Universe?

Life in the universe is a fascinating topic.  The simplest question: Are we alone? It breeds so many deeper and more profound scientific questions, like “How many habitable planets are there?” “How likely is life to develop on any given planet?” and “How long can a civilization survive?” We can’t answer them definitively, but we can narrow it down. The Drake equation, shown above, was first developed by Frank Drake, the head of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), in 1961.  He took the question of are we alone and made it quantifiable, in a probabilistic way.  It lets us...

The Nearby Supernova Revealed

Remember last week when I was talking about the evidence for some ancient-but-astronomically-recent supernovae? It turns out there is other evidence! Evidence that has helped scientists narrow down the potential source locations. Data from the Cosmic Ray Isotope Spectrometer (CRIS), an instrument aboard NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft, has helped us figure out where the recent supernovae might have come from.  CRIS measures what we call cosmic rays, atomic nuclei that have been accelerated across the galaxy at close to the speed of light.  CRIS has been around for a while, and through 17 years of cosmic ray observations,...

Where does the Gold come from?

Gold doesn’t come from your local jewelry store, and the Gold rush that occurred in the Yukon territory at the turn of the 20th century is not the source I’m talking about either.  I want to take it further back, to the origins of gold the element.  Similar to the origins of most other elements on the periodic table, it requires an immense amount of energy, such as the nuclear fusion that goes on within a star.  But Gold can not be made by a star’s thermonuclear engine.  Gold requires more energy, as does every other element heavier than Iron.  So...

Motivation Monday: The Little Victories

The difficulties and struggles of today are but the price we must pay for the accomplishments and victories of tomorrow. – William J. H. Boetcker There’s a goal you have in mind.  It’s big, it’s difficult to achieve, and if you succeed it will look good to everyone else who sees you accomplish it.  People will envy you and wonder how you did it.  they will see the huge difference it has made in your life and it will inspire them.  But there is a lot that they don’t see. I’ve talked about the grind, the adjustment, the focus and...

1000 Things You Didn’t Know About the Universe #4: Most Stars are Small and Red

Welcome to a new series of posts that will characterize 1000 amazing facts about the Universe.  There is so much out there that we have yet to learn, and every day, astronomers across the globe are using their research to reveal the deepest secrets of the cosmos.  This series will look at the strangest, coolest, most exciting facts that we have discovered in hundreds of years of modern science. Fact #4: Most of the stars in the universe are red dwarfs smaller than our Sun. There is a leap of understanding that happens when a child learns that our Sun...

Where did the Elements Come From?

The elements that make up our world and our selves, where do they come from? Sure there is plenty of Oxygen in the air, Silicon and Carbon are just lying around, and a bunch of other stuff can be found across our planet.  but where did they come from originally? We know that most of the elements are synthesized within stars, but which ones aren’t? Which ones are made in a lab? The Big Bang gave rise to the first elements Hydrogen and Helium, which eventually clumped together to form the first stars and star producing the heavier stuff.  Lithium,...

1000 Things You Didn’t Know About the Universe #3: It’s Mostly Made of Nothing

Welcome to a new series of posts that will characterize 1000 amazing facts about the Universe.  There is so much out there that we have yet to learn, and every day, astronomers across the globe are using their research to reveal the deepest secrets of the cosmos.  This series will look at the strangest, coolest, most exciting facts that we have discovered in hundreds of years of modern science. Fact #3: The Universe is made of a ridiculous amount of nothing. What is everything made of? The answer will change depending on how much education you have.  For most of...

Earth May Have 1,500 Undiscovered Minerals

Minerals are formed when geological or biological activity create unique combinations of elements. The type of mineral you get is dependent on the environment in which it forms.  For geological minerals, pressure and temperature can vary to give different combinations that are difficult to replicate in a lab.  For biological minerals, life slowly but surely undergoes processes that shift and shape minerals, usually as a waste product from obtaining energy. But with 3 billion years of life forming and reforming on our planet, springing up new diversity and losing countless species to extinction, there may be minerals that we simply haven’t...

Milky Way Stars Interact Dynamically

Think about Earth and its population of over 7 Billion people. That’s 7 Billion people who wake up, breathe, live, think, experience, and interact with each other.  The sheer volume of interactions and variation in the human experience is staggering.  Every second you are alive these interactions are happening all around you, and far from you in any corner of the planet.  Millions of people right now feel sad, happy, ecstatic, broken, angry, tired, energetic, and everything in between. Now if we go beyond to the Milky Way, where there are more than 50 stars for each and every homo sapiens on...