Researchers reveal the origin story for carbon-12, a building block for life

Sun, 15 May 2022 20:05:19 GMT
Space Daily

Ames IA (SPX) May 12, 2022 With the help of the world's most powerful supercomputer and new...

With the help of the world's most powerful supercomputer and new artificial intelligence techniques, an international team of researchers has theorized how the extreme conditions in stars produce carbon-12, which they describe as "a critical gateway to the birth of life."

The researchers' fundamental question: "How does the cosmos produce carbon-12?" said James Vary, a professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University and a longtime member of the research collaboration.

A fraction of those unstable carbon nuclei can shoot off a little extra energy in the form of gamma rays and become stable carbon-12, the stuff of life.

A paper recently published by the online journal Nature Communications describes the researchers' supercomputer simulations and resulting theory for the nuclear structure of carbon that favors its formation in the cosmos.

The researchers write that this alpha-particle clustering "Is a very beautiful and fascinating idea and is indeed plausible because the particle is particularly stable with a large binding energy."

To test the theory, the researchers ran supercomputer simulations, including calculations on the Fugaku supercomputer at the RIKEN Center for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan.

Vary said the researchers also did their work ab initio, or from first principles, meaning their calculations were based on known science and didn't include additional assumptions or parameters.

Vary said the team has worked for more than a decade to develop its software, refine its supercomputer codes, run its calculations and work out smaller problems while building up to the current work.

All the calculations, physical quantities and theoretical subtlety match what experimental data there is in this corner of nuclear physics, the researchers wrote.

One thing is now clear to the researchers: "This nucleosynthesis in extreme environments produces a lot of stuff," Vary said, "Including carbon."

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