Sky & Telescope - June 2020 - 63

According to Frebel, a coauthor on the study, "In some
ways, an asymmetric core-collapse supernova is a more natural explanation than mixing-fallback supernovae, while also
explaining the zinc abundances in HE 1327-2326." In a press
release after the study's publication, Ezzeddine suggested
this result changes our understanding of how the first stars
exploded. "This is the first observational evidence that such
an asymmetric supernova took place in the early universe,"
she said.

The Origin of the Milky Way's
Metal-Poor Stars
Most metal-poor stars discovered so far lie in the vast halo
around the disk of the Milky Way. These 13-billion-year-old
stars almost certainly predate the formation of the Milky
Way as we know it today. But how did these stars come to
arrive in our galaxy's halo, and where did they initially form?
Stellar archaeology suggests the answers to these questions
lie in the kinematics of the dozens of dwarf spheroidal galaxies that surround the Milky Way. These tiny galaxies contain
just a few thousand to a few million stars embedded within a
more massive halo of dark matter that holds them together.
They also have virtually no gas or dust, which means new star
formation ended billions of years ago.
While computer simulations suggest the Milky Way has
ingested many dwarfs in the past 10 to 12 billion years, it's
been challenging to verify this observationally. However,
stellar archaeologists have measured high-resolution spectra
of a handful of the brightest stars in the closest dwarf galaxies. Results show the faintest galaxies, the so-called ultra-

C, N, O
Zn, some Fe

Most Fe caught in core

ASYMMETRIC, ROTATING: A rapidly spinning
star explodes, and the energy and spin power jets
that emerge from the core. The jets carry zinc and
some iron up into the exploding star's outer layers,
but much of the iron falls into the black hole.

faint dwarfs (UFDs), have the lowest metallicities and the
oldest Pop II stars. Metal-poor stars in UFDs such as Ursa
Major II, SEGUE I, Boötes I, and Leo IV have abundances of
Ca, Ti, Cr, and Zn remarkably similar to the most metalpoor stars in the halo of the Milky Way, suggesting they
formed in a similar environment. "The chemical signatures
in old stars in ultra-faint dwarf galaxies compared to those
in the Milky Way halo is strong evidence that at least some
of these stars in the halo came from ingested dwarf galaxies," says Frebel.
UFDs also serve as sites for stellar archaeologists to investigate how Pop III stars generated the first elements heavier
than iron. Massive stars create all the metals up to iron by
fusion in their cores, but they only make small amounts of
elements slightly heavier than iron - cobalt, nickel, copper,
and zinc - before fusion shuts down and the star dies. Yet
these elements clearly pollute the next generation of stars in
significant amounts, so they must have been made somehow,
along with even heavier elements.
Theory indicates that half the elements heavier than
iron are produced through neutron capture in the so-called
r-process, in which seed nuclei such as iron are bombarded by
a huge flux of neutrons (roughly 1024 per cubic centimeter),
then transmute into heavier elements in a cascade of energetically favorable nuclear reactions. The r-process happens in a
matter of seconds, producing gold, rare earths like europium,
and actinides such as uranium. It likely occurs in supernovae
during the collapse and explosive re-expansion of the core,
or during the cataclysmic merger of two neutron stars. In the
present day, neutron star mergers may be a dominant source
of r-process elements. But since many metal-poor stars have
relatively low abundances of these elements, astronomers
suspected that neutron-star mergers were irrelevant in the
earliest days of star formation, possibly because of the long
time it takes for such a merger to happen.
This view changed in 2016, when Alexander Ji (then at
MIT) and his collaborators examined metal-poor stars in
Reticulum II, a nearby UFD. They found very high abundances of r-process elements such as europium in seven of
the nine stars observed, more than 100 to 1,000 times the
abundance of these elements compared to stars in other UFD
galaxies. It would take 1,000 supernovae to create these levels
- an unlikely scenario in this tiny galaxy. Or they could be
explained by a single merger of two neutron stars that polluted the environment. The neutron stars could have been
the remnants of mid-sized, metal-free Pop III stars or very old
Population II stars.
Coincidentally, Ji's study showed evidence of a neutronstar merger just before the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) began to find gravitational
waves from similar events (S&T: Feb. 2018, p. 32). "This is a
really fantastic little galaxy that has changed our understanding of the field of nuclear astrophysics," Frebel says of Reticulum II. "It's a perfect example of how stellar archaeology plays
at the top levels of astrophysics."
sk yandtelescope.org * JUNE 2 02 0

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Sky & Telescope - June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky & Telescope - June 2020

Contents
Sky & Telescope - June 2020 - Cover1
Sky & Telescope - June 2020 - Cover2
Sky & Telescope - June 2020 - 1
Sky & Telescope - June 2020 - Contents
Sky & Telescope - June 2020 - 3
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