Nav: Home

The 'stuff' of the universe keeps changing

January 31, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio--The composition of the universe--the elements that are the building blocks for every bit of matter--is ever-changing and ever-evolving, thanks to the lives and deaths of stars.

An outline of how those elements form as stars grow and explode and fade and merge is detailed in a review article published Jan. 31 is the journal Science.

"The universe went through some very interesting changes, where all of a sudden the periodic table--the total number of elements in the universe--changed a lot," said Jennifer Johnson, a professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University and the article's author.

"For 100 million years after the Big Bang, there was nothing but hydrogen, helium and lithium. And then we started to get carbon and oxygen and really important things. And now, we're kind of in the glory days of populating the periodic table."

The periodic table has helped humans understand the elements of the universe since the 1860s, when a Russian chemist, Dmitri Mendeleev, recognized that certain elements behaved the same way chemically, and organized them into a chart--the periodic table.

It is chemistry's way of organizing elements, helping scientists from elementary school to the world's best laboratories understand how materials around the universe come together.

But, as scientists have long known, the periodic table is just made of stardust: Most elements on the periodic table, from the lightest hydrogen to heavier elements like lawrencium, started in stars.

The table has grown as new elements have been discovered--or in cases of synthetic elements, have been created in laboratories around the world--but the basics of Mendeleev's understanding of atomic weight and the building blocks of the universe have held true.

Nucleosynthesis--the process of creating a new element--began with the Big Bang, about 13.7 billion years ago. The lightest elements in the universe, hydrogen and helium, were also the first, results of the Big Bang. But heavier elements--just about every other element on the periodic table--are largely the products of the lives and deaths of stars.

Johnson said that high-mass stars, including some in the constellation Orion, about 1,300 light years from Earth, fuse elements much faster than low-mass stars. These grandiose stars fuse hydrogen and helium into carbon, and turn carbon into magnesium, sodium and neon. High-mass stars die by exploding into supernovae, releasing elements--from oxygen to silicon to selenium--into space around them.

Smaller, low-mass stars--stars about the size of our own Sun--fuse hydrogen and helium together in their cores. That helium then fuses into carbon. When the small star dies, it leaves behind a white dwarf star. White dwarfs synthesize other elements when they merge and explode. An exploding white dwarf might send calcium or iron into the abyss surrounding it. Merging neutron stars might create rhodium or xenon. And because, like humans, stars live and die on different time scales--and because different elements are produced as a star goes through its life and death--the composition of elements in the universe also changes over time.

"One of the things I like most about this is how it takes several different processes for stars to make elements and these processes are interestingly distributed across the periodic table," Johnson said. "When we think of all the elements in the universe, it is interesting to think about how many stars gave their lives--and not just high-mass stars blowing up into supernovae. It's also some stars like our Sun, and older stars. It takes a nice little range of stars to give us elements."
-end-
Contact: Jennifer Johnson, johnson.3064@osu.edu; 614-292-2928

Written by: Laura Arenschield, Arenschield.2@osu.edu; 614-292-9475

Ohio State University

Related Hydrogen Articles:

Hydrogen vehicles might soon become the global norm
Roughly one billion cars and trucks zoom about the world's roadways.
Hydrogen economy with mass production of high-purity hydrogen from ammonia
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has made an announcement about the technology to extract high-purity hydrogen from ammonia and generate electric power in conjunction with a fuel cell developed by a team led by Young Suk Jo and Chang Won Yoon from the Center for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research.
Superconductivity: It's hydrogen's fault
Last summer, it was discovered that there are promising superconductors in a special class of materials, the so-called nickelates.
Hydrogen energy at the root of life
A team of international researchers in Germany, France and Japan is making progress on answering the question of the origin of life.
Hydrogen alarm for remote hydrogen leak detection
Tomsk Polytechnic University jointly with the University of Chemistry and Technology of Prague proposed new sensors based on widely available optical fiber to ensure accurate detection of hydrogen molecules in the air.
Preparing for the hydrogen economy
In a world first, University of Sydney researchers have found evidence of how hydrogen causes embrittlement of steels.
Hydrogen boride nanosheets: A promising material for hydrogen carrier
Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology, University of Tsukuba, and colleagues in Japan report a promising hydrogen carrier in the form of hydrogen boride nanosheets.
World's fastest hydrogen sensor could pave the way for clean hydrogen energy
Hydrogen is a clean and renewable energy carrier that can power vehicles, with water as the only emission.
Chemical hydrogen storage system
Hydrogen is a highly attractive, but also highly explosive energy carrier, which requires safe, lightweight and cheap storage as well as transportation systems.
Observing hydrogen's effects in metal
Microscopy technique could help researchers design safer reactor vessels or hydrogen storage tanks.
More Hydrogen News and Hydrogen Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.