Formation of Superheavy Elements in Nature

It is shown that superheavy elements may also be formed in the main r process responsible for the formation of the heaviest elements observed in nature. Under conditions of a high neutron density, the nucleosynthesis region lies close to the neutron drip line, so that the r process may circumvent the region where nuclei undergo spontaneous fissions and therefore have short lifetimes. However, a high induced-fission rate, which increases with the charge number, may prevent the nucleosynthesis wave from overcoming the region of isotopes heavier than curium, and the beta-decay chain leading to an increase in the charge number of product elements inevitably results in the spontaneous fission of the majority of product nuclei. Calculations of nucleosynthesis that were performed with available nuclear data within the scenario of a neutron-star merger reveal that only Z < 106 superheavy elements are formed. Their abundance at the end of the r process is commensurate with the abundance of uranium, but their lifetime does not exceed several years, so that they fast undergo decay.

 

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Micro-scale fusion in dense relativistic nanowire array plasmas

Nuclear fusion is regularly created in spherical plasma compressions driven by multi-kilojoule pulses from the world’s largest lasers. Here we demonstrate a dense fusion environment created by irradiating arrays of deuterated nanostructures with joule-level pulses from a compact ultrafast laser. The irradiation of ordered deuterated polyethylene nanowires arrays with femtosecond pulses of relativistic intensity creates ultra-high energy density plasmas in which deuterons (D) are accelerated up to MeV energies, efficiently driving D–D fusion reactions and ultrafast neutron bursts. We measure up to 2 × 106 fusion neutrons per joule, an increase of about 500 times with respect to flat solid targets, a record yield for joule-level lasers. Moreover, in accordance with simulation predictions, we observe a rapid increase in neutron yield with laser pulse energy. The results will impact nuclear science and high energy density research and can lead to bright ultrafast quasi-monoenergetic neutron point sources for imaging and materials studies.

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