The Scientific Story Of How Each Element Was Made
“Neutron star mergers create the greatest heavy element abundances of all, including gold, mercury, and platinum. Meanwhile, cosmic rays blast nuclei apart, creating the Universe’s lithium, beryllium, and boron. Finally, the heaviest, unstable elements are made in terrestrial laboratories. The result is the rich, diverse Universe we inhabit today.”
When the Big Bang first occurred, the Universe was filled with all the various particles and antiparticles making up the Standard Model, and perhaps still others yet to be discovered. But missing from the list were protons, neutrons, or any of the atomic nuclei key to the life-giving elements in our Universe today. Yet the Universe expanded, cooled, antimatter annihilated away, and the first elements began to take shape. After billions of years of cosmic evolution, we arrived at a Universe recognizable today: full of stars, planets, and the full complement of elements populating the periodic table. More than 100 elements are known today, 91 of which are found to occur naturally on Earth. Some were formed in the Big Bang, others were formed in stars, still others were formed in violent cosmic cataclysms or collisions. Yet every one has an origin whose story is now known, giving rise to all we interact with today.