Special Reviews

Genesis of the Heaviest Elements in the Milky Way Galaxy

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Science  03 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5603, pp. 70-75
DOI: 10.1126/science.1077506

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We review the origin and evolution of the heavy elements, those with atomic numbers greater than 30, in the early history of the Milky Way. There is a large star-to-star bulk scatter in the concentrations of heavy elements with respect to the lighter metals, which suggests an early chemically unmixed and inhomogeneous Galaxy. The relative abundance patterns among the heavy elements are often very different from the solar system mix, revealing the characteristics of the first element donors in the Galaxy. Abundance comparisons among several halo stars show that the heaviest neutron-capture elements (including barium and heavier) are consistent with a scaled solar system rapid neutron-capture abundance distribution, whereas the lighter such elements do not conform to the solar pattern. The stellar abundances indicate an increasing contribution from the slow neutron-capture process (s-process) at higher metallicities in the Galaxy. The detection of thorium in halo and globular cluster stars offers a promising, independent age-dating technique that can put lower limits on the age of the Galaxy.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: chris{at}verdi.as.utexas.edu

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