Where does copper come from?

Astronomers use computers to study stars in the Milky Way and in a star cluster called Omega Centauri to learn more about copper’s origin.

Astronomers used computers to study the evolution of stars located in the disk of our Milky Way galaxy versus stars located in Omega Centauri, a globular star cluster outside the Milky Way’s disk. By contrasting copper evolution in Omega Centauri stars versus Milky Way stars, they determined that massive stars are the major copper producers.

It’s been commonly known for decades that the ordinary elements around us here on Earth arose in stars. But many mysteries remain.

For example, astronomers have felt unsure about the exact process that caused stars to produce the element copper. They’ve debated whether copper originates in massive stars or in a type of supernova called a type 1a supernova.

In 2007, astronomers Donatella Romano and Francesca Matteucci used observations of copper and iron abundances in stars of different ages to pinpoint the stars that made copper.

These astronomers now believe that most copper on Earth was forged in very massive stars. They believe copper came to be after these stars expanded to become supergiant stars. These supergiant stars later exploded as supernovae, catapulting the newly minted copper into space. Four and a half billion years ago, Earth inherited some of this copper.

It’s thought that gold and silver came to be in massive stars, but only as the stars exploded. In other words, while the copper in pennies and copper pipes arose during the lives of massive stars, the gold and silver in your jewelry were forged during star deaths.

Our thanks today to Research Corporation, America’s first foundation for science advancement.

EarthSky

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