Heavy Elements' Origin In The Universe: Scientists Explains Theory

First Posted: Dec 08, 2015 04:17 PM EST

Scientists may have found a solution to the Galactic radioactive plutonium puzzle, according to a study at The Hebrew University of JerusalemThe plutonium used on earth is produced artificially in nuclear reactors, however, plutonium is also produced naturally within space atmospheres.

"The origin of heavy elements produced in nature through rapid neutron capture ('r-process') by seed nuclei is one of the current nucleosynthesis mysteries," the researchers wrote in news release.

About one-third of the energy generated in nuclear power plants comes from plutonium, which is a radioactive element. Plutonium-244 is one of its longest-lived isotopes, which has a lifespan of 120 million years.

A significant amount of plutonium-244 was detected in the early solar system several years ago. Plutonium-244 that existed over four billion years ago, when the earth was being formed, still has relative elements, which have been detected. Various measurements of plutonium-244 deposition and galactic debris had fallen to the earth and settled in the deep sea, revealed that small amounts of plutonium from outer space landed on the earth 100 million years ago. This is a contradiction to its presence at the time when the Solar system was formed, thus the Galactic radioactive plutonium remained a puzzle, according to the researchers.

The scientists claimed this contradictions can be resolved if the source of radioactive plutonium is in mergers of binary neutron stars. The mergers are rare events, but they can produce large amounts of heavy elements. The researchers' model showed that one of these mergers took place in the regions of the solar system about a hundred million years ago, before it was born. As a result large amounts of plutonium-244 had been observed in the early solar system. These events are quite rare and have not taken place in the solar system vicinity since 100 million years ago.

The findings of this study were published in the journal Nature Physics.

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