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Merging neutron stars, kilonovae and the origin of the heavy chemical elements

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Talk Abstract

The origin of many of the chemical elements heavier than iron, including precious metals such as gold and platinum, has been a long-standing puzzle. One hypothesis is that they are predominantly formed during mergers of ultra-dense neutron stars which are expected to synthesise heavy elements when ejected neutron star material explodes in what is known as a kilonova. The same merger events also release highly relativistic jets of plasma which we see as so-called gamma-ray bursts, as well as copious gravitational waves. All of these phenomena were seen together for the first time in 2017 confirming the general picture, but leaving challenging questions still to be answered, as I will describe.

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Speaker Information

Professor Nial Tanvir obtained his BSc in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Durham. He stayed in Durham to do a PhD entitled “Resolved Stars in External Galaxies” under the supervision of Dick Fong and Tom Shanks. After a short post-doc in Durham, he moved to the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge where I was a member of the UK Hubble Space Telescope Support Facility. In 1999 He was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, and in 2006 moved to Leicester as Professor of Astronomy. He has sat on many scientific advisory committees, and in 2002 was the co-recipient of the European Union Descartes Prize for Research, recognising pioneering contributions to the study of gamma-ray burst afterglows. He was awarded a PPARC Senior Fellowship in 2005.

He is also actively involved in public outreach, giving frequent talks to schools, societies and public audiences, and making occasional TV and radio appearances.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Astronomical Society (CUAS) series.

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