The Origin of r-process Elements in the Milky Way

Benoit Côté1,2,8, Chris L. Fryer2,3,8, Krzysztof Belczynski4, Oleg Korobkin2,3, Martyna Chruślińska5, Nicole Vassh6, Matthew R. Mumpower2,3,7, Jonas Lippuner2,3, Trevor M. Sprouse6, Rebecca Surman2,6
Astrophysical Journal 855, 99 Link to Article [DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aaad67]
1Konkoly Observatory, Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Konkoly Thege Miklos ut 15-17, H-1121 Budapest, Hungary
2Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics—Center for the Evolution of the Elements, USA
3Center for Theoretical Astrophysics, LANL, Los Alamos, NM 87545, USA
4Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center, Polish Academy of Sciences, ul. Bartycka 18, 00-716 Warsaw, Poland
5Institute of Mathematics, Astrophysics and Particle Physics, Radboud University Nijmegen, P.O. box 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen, the Netherlands
6University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA
7Theoretical Division, Los Alamos National Lab, Los Alamos, NM 87545, USA
8NuGrid Collaboration, http://nugridstars.org.

Some of the heavy elements, such as gold and europium (Eu), are almost exclusively formed by the rapid neutron capture process (r-process). However, it is still unclear which astrophysical site between core-collapse supernovae and neutron star–neutron star (NS–NS) mergers produced most of the r-process elements in the universe. Galactic chemical evolution (GCE) models can test these scenarios by quantifying the frequency and yields required to reproduce the amount of europium (Eu) observed in galaxies. Although NS–NS mergers have become popular candidates, their required frequency (or rate) needs to be consistent with that obtained from gravitational wave measurements. Here, we address the first NS–NS merger detected by LIGO/Virgo (GW170817) and its associated gamma-ray burst and analyze their implication for the origin of r-process elements. The range of NS–NS merger rate densities of 320–4740 Gpc−3 yr−1 provided by LIGO/Virgo is remarkably consistent with the range required by GCE to explain the Eu abundances in the Milky Way with NS–NS mergers, assuming the solar r-process abundance pattern for the ejecta. Under the same assumption, this event has produced about 1–5 Earth masses of Eu, and 3–13 Earth masses of gold. When using theoretical calculations to derive Eu yields, constraining the role of NS–NS mergers becomes more challenging because of nuclear astrophysics uncertainties. This is the first study that directly combines nuclear physics uncertainties with GCE calculations. If GW170817 is a representative event, NS–NS mergers can produce Eu in sufficient amounts and are likely to be the main r-process site.

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