A new experiment designed by MIT physicists may help to pin down the rate at which huge, massive stars produce oxygen in the universe. Image credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble
Nearly all of the oxygen in our universe is forged in the bellies of massive stars like our Sun. As these stars contract and burn, they set off thermonuclear reactions within their cores, where nuclei of carbon and helium can collide and fuse in a rare though essential nuclear reaction that generates much of the oxygen in the universe.
The rate of this oxygen-generating reaction has been incredibly tricky to pin down. But if researchers can get a good enough estimate of what’s known as the “radiative capture reaction rate,” they can begin to work out the answers to fundamental questions, such as the ratio of carbon to oxygen in the universe. An accurate rate might also help them determine whether an exploding star will settle into the form of a black hole or a neutron star.
Now physicists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Laboratory for Nuclear Science (LNS), at Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, have come up with an experimental design that could help to nail down the rate of this ...