An international team of researchers and scientists has observed the explosive powers of a supernova in a laboratory setting for a few brief moments. University of Surrey researchers from the UK collaborated with scientists from TRIUMF National Laboratory in Canada to conduct the first direct measurement of a supernova reaction in a laboratory setting.

press release from the University of Surrey reported that the international team used an accelerated beam of radioactive nuclei for the experiment and directly measured supernova reaction in a laboratory.

 Supernova in the Lab: Researchers Used an Accelerated Beam of Radioactive Nuclei to Observe Star Explosion in a Laboratory Setting
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
X-ray, Optical & Infrared Composite of Kepler's Supernova Remnant

Rate of Supernova Reaction Lower Than Predicted by Theories

In their study, titled "First Direct Measurement of an Astrophysical p-Process Reaction Cross Section Using a Radioactive Ion Beam" published in the journal Physical Review Letters, researchers detailed the first time they have measured one of the processes described in previous theories about a supernova in which the heaviest elements in the universe are produced.

The team wrote in the study that the rate of astrophysical reaction of a supernova they studied in the laboratory was significantly lower than previously predicted by theory.

Studying the origins of heavy elements that are heavier than iron remains is one of the most burning open questions in modern science, particularly the 30 or so 'p-nuclei' that account for 1% of heavy elements because of their scarcity. The only way to study them was through a combination of experiments, theoretical models, and meteoritic data.

Science Alert pointed out that theory that with the most traction is the gamma process, wherein atoms capture flying protons during the star explosion or otherwise known as a supernova.

The experiment allowed scientists and researchers to directly observe heavy elements in stars or supernova remnants, according to the press release. Their observations have shed light on the proton capture process that scientists predicted to be responsible for the production of p-nuclei, and isotopes observed in the Solar System.

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Experiment Opens New Possibilities in Studying Heavy Elements in the Universe

According to Interesting Engineering, the experiment was conducted in Canada's TRIUMF National Laboratory using the machine at the Isotope Separator and Accelerator II to produce a beam of charged, radioactive rubidium-83 atoms. The team then recorded the supernova process in the laboratory.

"The coupling of a high-resolution gamma-ray array with an advanced electrostatic separator to measure gamma process reactions represents a key milestone in the direct measurement of astrophysical processes," University of Surrey's Dr. Gavin Lotay said as quoted in the news outlet.

He added that such measurements were previously thought to be impossible in the current experimental technologies, but the recent experiment has opened new possibilities for future studies,

A 2019 study by the University of Guelph and Columbia University has detailed their theory that all heavy elements were forged in a rare form of supernova called collapsed. Studies like these shed light on the supernova processes that may be responsible for forging every element that is heavier than oxygen, and therefore responsible for the existence of life.

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