There are 92 naturally occurring elements that make up almost everything we interact with daily. Yet at the beginning of the universe, there were only hydrogen, helium, and trace amounts of lithium and beryllium. As the universe cooled, the only places hot and dense enough to form new elements were in the cores of stars and in stellar explosions known as novae. During a nova, huge amounts of short-lived radioactive isotopes are created and released into the surrounding space, where they have a probability of interacting with other isotopes to create new elements.
Since 2000, TRIUMF’s DRAGON (Detector of Recoils And Gammas Of Nuclear Reactions) has been helping astronomers understand the probability of isotopes reacting with each other in novae. As a recoil mass spectrometer, DRAGON simulates the reactions occurring in a nova and identifies the reaction products. DRAGON has been instrumental in helping astronomers understand element formation, including measuring the probability of a key fluorine production reaction when the Hubble Space Telescope detected the element emitted from a nova for the first time in 2013. As the only facility in the world that is capable of experimentally measuring these reactions, DRAGON will continue to help astronomers understand how the elements, and thus ourselves, came to be.
Over the next 12 days, join us in celebrating some of TRIUMF’s world-class research facilities, experiments, and departments with TRIUMF's #12DaysofResearch