"Birthplaces" of the heaviest elements: Cluster project ELEMENTS investigates the dynamics of neutron stars


This news is based on a press release of TU Darmstadt

The ELEMENTS project combines the strong research forces of several international leading institutions. Besides the Goethe University Frankfurt as consortium leader the TU Darmstadt, the University of Gießen and the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt are also involved.

This network gives the scientists access to unique conditions: expertise in gravitational physics and in the physics of nuclear reactions as well as infrastructure such as the accelerator facilities in Darmstadt - the accelerator center FAIR currently under construction at GSI and the S-DALINAC electron accelerator at the TU in the Institute of Nuclear Physics. In addition, the physicists want to close a gap with ELEMENTS.

As one of the main measures, the project is seeking to establish a joint Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at the universities in Frankfurt and Darmstadt. This professorship is to be dedicated to the astronomical observation of processes in and around neutron stars, a field of research that is lacking in Hesse to date and is very close to the research work honored with this year's Nobel Prize.

ELEMENTS will study neutron stars, the barely visible little brothers of black holes. They are formed after a star has burned out when it was not massive enough to be compressed into a black hole by its own gravitational pressure after its end. Neutron stars, like black holes, are the cause of extreme space-time curvature, and when neutron stars or black holes merge, detectable gravitational waves are created.

Because of their cosmic effects and extreme conditions, both phenomena are the focus of research. However, unlike black holes, neutron stars also allow glimpses into their interior and they are also "productive". For example, neutron star mergers are visible as kilonovae in the sky and are the only known objects in the universe that produce the heaviest chemical elements through nuclear reactions under extreme conditions.

The ELEMENTS project investigates the dynamics in the fusion of two neutron stars and and in this context also examines the gravitational field, nuclear matter and - the main topic of the physicists at GSI/FAIR and the TU Darmstadt - the heavy chemical elements that are created in the process. For example, the luminosity of a kilonova was successfully predicted a few years ago by physicists working in Darmstadt.

For ELEMENTS, the research consortium has applied to the state of Hesse for funding under the one-time funding line for cluster projects. This funding line is intended to provide project-related support for internationally competitive research fields at universities and university networks in order to further raise their profile and prepare them for a successful application in the next round of the excellence strategy. (TUD/BP)