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ASU researchers to study elements released when stars explode

NGC 2359 (also known as Thor's Helmet) is an emission nebula in the southern constellation Canis Major (The Great Dog). This helmet-shaped cosmic cloud with wing-like appendages is around 15,000 light-years away from Earth and is over 30 light-years across. The central star of Thor’s Helmet is the Wolf-Rayet star WR 7. This large, bright star is believed to be about 280,000 times brighter than the Sun, 16 times more massive and 1.41 times larger. It is also in the last stage of its life. Professors Sumner Starrfield, Frank Timmes, and Christian Iliadis will study the pre-explosion evolution of stars like WR 7. (ESO/B. Bailleul Photo)

Two professors from Arizona State University and one from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are fascinated by stars and the elements they create.

Sumner Starrfield and Frank Timmes from ASU are working with Christian Iliadis from UNC to discover the uncertainties of how stars explode. A NASA grant of nearly $70,000 will help them to better understand how supernovae evolve to an explosion and how much of certain elements a star car produce.

Starrfield said stars serve as giant furnaces. The intense heat inside those stars cause atoms to collide and explode, thereby creating elements found in our bodies such as calcium and iron.

“Every chemical element in our body except for Hydrogen and Helium was made in stars after the formation of the universe about 14 billion years ago,” Starrfield said.

The team will be checking 50 of the most important nuclear reaction rates for producing elements that form life. Starrfield will then compare their calculations with observations of exploding stars and determine the amounts of chemical elements blown into space.

KTAR’s Jon Roller contributed to this report.

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