What is nuclear astrophysics?


Published: JPhys+

Author: Colon Adcock

Date: June 3, 2016

“Nuclear physics plays a special role in the cosmos. Everything that is visible in the night sky is powered by nuclear reactions.”

That’s how Hendrik Schatz (Michigan State University) opens his latest article ‘Trends in nuclear astrophysics‘ in JPhysG. But what exactly is it all about, and what’s happening in the field? We asked a few questions to find out.

What exactly is ‘nuclear astrophysics’?

Nuclear Astrophysics is a field at the intersection of nuclear physics and astrophysics that seeks to understand how nuclear processes shape the cosmos. In essence we look for the connection between properties of atomic nuclei and the properties of planets, stars, and galaxies.

Open questions include “How did the universe create the elements?”, “How can extremely dense and hot astrophysical environments be used to learn about fundamental properties of matter?”, and “How is the energy created that powers stars and stellar explosions?”. One fascinating aspect of this field is its interdisciplinarity and diversity.

Work in nuclear astrophysics includes astronomical observations using telescopes, gravitational wave detectors, and neutrino detectors; accelerator laboratory experiments using beams of stable nuclei, radioactive nuclei, neutrons, and gamma-rays; laboratory analysis of interstellar grains; large scale computer simulations of stellar explosions and nuclei; and theoretical work in nuclear physics and astrophysics.

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