Galactic Forensics Lab

Research Image Compilations

In the big bang a bit over 13.8 billion years ago the universe was born. The elements that formed in this monumental event were predominantly hydrogen and helium, both of which do not dominate our everyday life. All heavier elements, e.g., the carbon we are made of, the oxygen we breathe, and the uranium that fuels our nuclear power plants all formed subsequently in stars in a process called nucleosynthesis.

Studying meteorites allows us to determine the initial elemental and isotopic composition of the solar system which formed 4.567 billion years ago. Pristine meteorites, i.e., solar system rocks that have never been altered since the formation of the solar system furthermore contain tiny grains that formed in the death throes of dying stars and were incorporated into the meteorite parent body in the solar nebula. These grains represent bona fide stardust grains and allow us to measure stellar processes, such as nucleosynthesis, in the laboratory.

Analyses of stardust grains and meteorites, in combination with nuclear physics experiments, and astronomical observations constrain the physical models of stellar nucleosynthesis and galactic chemical evolution of the Milky Way. That means that such measurements and observations help us to constrain how elements evolved from the hydrogen and helium that was formed in the big bang to the composition of the solar system and its inhabitants as we find it today.