“We are made of stardust.”
While that statement may sound like a song title from the 1960s, it was actually made by astrophysicist and science fiction author Carl Sagan. And he was right. The nuclear burning inside collapsing stars produces the elements that make up and sustain life on Earth: carbon, nitrogen, iron and calcium, to name a few. Even lead, gold and the rock beneath our feet come from stars.
The Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR) collaboration uses a low-energy accelerator to better understand how elements are produced in the Universe and at what rate and how much energy is produced during the process.
“Unlike other underground experiments, we look at many different interactions and are not focused on discovering just one event,” said Dan Robertson, research associate professor at the University of Notre Dame. “All of these details give us a better understanding of the life of a star and what material is kicked out into the Universe during explosive stellar events.”
What’s LIGO got to do with it?
In late 2017, the Laser-Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), recorded a violent collision of two neutron stars—this was on top of two previous observations of black hole mergers that emitted gravitational waves. Observations made after the collision reinforce the need for measurements like those CASPAR hopes to take, explained Strieder.
“The basic point is that from the information we learned from this cataclysmic event, we can calculate the amount of heavy element material produced.” Strieder said. “And then compare it with the heavy elements found in our planetary system.”