Refueling the Magic Furnace: Kilonova 2017 Rewrites the Story of Element Origins

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Barry Wood


For more than half a century, we have understood element creation in the stars—described in Marcus Chown’s colorful image as “the magic furnace.” From 1958 until 2017, supernova explosions were thought to be the primary site of element creation above Iron, No. 26 on the Periodic Table. This assumption was radically overturned with the August 17, 2017, arrival of signals from a catastrophic collision of neutron stars. This paper traces the history of element-creation science leading to the striking discoveries attending “Kilonova 2017” that now call for a rewriting of the nucleosynthesis chapter of Big History.

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