A smattering of plutonium atoms embedded in Earth’s crust are helping to resolve the origins of nature’s heaviest elements.
Scientists had long suspected that elements such as gold, silver and plutonium are born during supernovas, when stars explode. But typical supernovas can’t explain the quantity of heavy elements in our cosmic neighborhood, a new study suggests. That means other cataclysmic events must have been major contributors, physicist Anton Wallner and colleagues report in the May 14 Science.
The result bolsters a recent change of heart among astrophysicists. Standard supernovas have fallen out of favor. Instead, researchers think that heavy elements are more likely forged in collisions of two dense, dead
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