According to new research by University of Guelph physicist Daniel Siegel, approximately 80% of the heavy metals in the universe were likely created in “collapsars”, a rare but heavy element-rich form of supernova explosion from the gravitational collapse of old, massive stars typically 30 times the size of our sun.
Previously, it was widely believed that heavy metal elements came from collisions between neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole. Siegel and his team were working on understanding this theory when their simulations began to point toward collapsars instead. Using supercomputers, the team simulated massive, rapidly spinning collapsars that ejected heavy elements similar to what is observed in our solar system.
“Eighty per cent of these heavy elements we see should come from collapsars. Collapsars are fairly rare in occurrences of supernovae, even more rare than neutron star mergers — but the amount of material that they eject into space is much higher than that from neutron star mergers,” said Siegel.
The research team is now hoping further surveys & observations will validate their theoretical model. The James Webb Space Telescope is set for launch in 2021 and should be able to detect telltale radiation evidencing heavy elements from a collapsar in a far-distant galaxy.
“Trying to nail down where heavy elements come from may help us understand how the galaxy was chemically assembled and how the galaxy formed. This may actually help solve some big questions in cosmology as heavy elements are a nice tracer,” explained Siegel.