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Refining a cosmic clock: Particle accelerator research helps narrow down the age of our galaxy

Date:
July 19, 2010
Source:
American Physical Society
Summary:
A study of processes that affect the abundance of osmium will reduce the uncertainty that has plagued measurements of the age of the Milky Way.

This diagram is a sketch of the experimental region of a time-of-flight experiment to measure processes that affect the abundance of osmium-187. The information will give scientists a better idea of the age of the galaxy.
Credit: M. Mosconi et al., Phys. Rev. C

Physicists will soon have a better measure of the age of our galaxy, thanks to experiments described in a trio of papers appearing in the journal Physical Review C.

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The papers report on experiments at the CERN neutron time-of-flight (n_TOF) facility and the Karlsruhe Van de Graaff accelerator that clarify the processes that affect the abundance of the element osmium-187. The element is created when rhenium-187 decays.

Because rhenium-187 was produced in the first stellar explosions after the birth of the galaxy, measuring the amounts of rhenium-187 and osmium-187 we observe today can provide an estimate of the galaxy's age. In effect, the elements act as a cosmic clock that started ticking when the galaxy was born.

Unfortunately, there are various processes that can affect the amounts of osmium we measure. Uncertainties in our understanding of those processes have limited the accuracy of the cosmic clock to more than a billion years. The CERN and Karlsruhe experiments involve firing pulses of neutrons into an osmium target to determine how frequently the element is likely to capture neutrons and convert to another material.

The data the researchers collected has reduced uncertainties in the rhenium-osmium cosmic clock to less than a billion years, allowing a better estimate of our roughly 14 billion year old galaxy.


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The above story is based on materials provided by American Physical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. M. Mosconi et al. (The n_TOF Collaboration). Neutron physics of the Re/Os clock. I. Measurement of the (n,γ) cross sections of 186,187,188Os at the CERN n_TOF facility. Phys. Rev. C, 2010; 82: 015802 DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevC.82.015802
  2. M. Mosconi, M. Heil, F. Kδppeler, R. Plag, and A. Mengoni. Neutron physics of the Re/Os clock. II. The (n,n′) cross section of 187Os at 30 keV neutron energy. Phys. Rev. C, 2010; 82: 015803 DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevC.82.015803
  3. K. Fujii et al. (The n_TOF Collaboration). Neutron physics of the Re/Os clock. III. Resonance analyses and stellar (n,γ) cross sections of 186,187,188Os. Phys. Rev. C, 2010; 82: 015804 DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevC.82.015804

Cite This Page:

American Physical Society. "Refining a cosmic clock: Particle accelerator research helps narrow down the age of our galaxy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100715172008.htm>.
American Physical Society. (2010, July 19). Refining a cosmic clock: Particle accelerator research helps narrow down the age of our galaxy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100715172008.htm
American Physical Society. "Refining a cosmic clock: Particle accelerator research helps narrow down the age of our galaxy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100715172008.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

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