Gamma ray camera will give new insights into the birth and evolution of stars

February 5, 2013
National laboratories and project representatives at AGATA

A major step forward in our understanding of the structure and behaviour of some of the most elusive atomic nuclei in existence, some of which occur only briefly on the surface of exploding stars, is now taking place thanks to the first experiments to come from the new Advanced Gamma Tracking Array (AGATA).

AGATA has been developed by the STFC's Nuclear Physics Group, and a group of UK Universities funded by STFC, with the aim of studying the very rarest and heaviest elements predicted to exist. This is research that could answer some of the most fundamental questions about our universe. AGATA is currently based at the GSI (link opens in a new window) Helmholtz Centre for in Darmstadt, Germany.

A thousand times more sensitive than any previous detector built, and with an unparalleled level of sensitivity to , AGATA will, at final set up, be able to observe the structure and interior of these rare and exotic nuclei by measuring the they emit as they decay. The exciting potential of this led to the creation of the international AGATA collaboration of 12 European counties involving 40 institutions.

Professor John Simpson, Head of STFC's Nuclear Physics Group and International AGATA Spokesperson, said:

"Nuclear physicists look to create and study the very rarest and heaviest elements predicted to exist, so it is really exciting to see technology developed by the STFC's Group, and UK Universities, contribute to this research that could answer some of the most fundamental questions about our universe. It also shows the importance of UK nuclear physicists playing leading roles in both the science programme and development of advanced detection systems at world leading laboratories such as GSI. Now that the first set of experiments has been completed at AGATA, we are really looking forward to hearing the results once the data has been analysed."

make up most of the visible matter in the Universe. Exotic nuclei, such as those produced by fusion in stars, are so unstable that they might only exist for a matter of seconds before they destruct and produce the stable matter from which we are made. By understanding the structure of these unstable, exotic nuclei we may reveal why some are more stable than others, or have particular shapes, leading to deeper insights into how stars are born and evolve.

STFC's scientists, along with other key partners from the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, Surrey, West of Scotland and York, have taken a leading role in AGATA's development, particularly in the engineering and electronics design. The mechanical structure was delivered by the UK to GSI early in 2012, and experiments started in September after an intense period of installation and commissioning.

One of AGATA's first experiments, co-led by the University of Surrey's Zsolt Podolyak, was to observe the extremely rare and neutron rich variants of mercury and platinum nuclei, and specifically investigate how protons and neutrons in these nuclei behave collectively. This will lead to a better understanding of the synthesis of the heavy elements in stars, specifically in supernovas and neutron star mergers.

This research paves the way for further UK science programmes at the future international FAIR accelerator (Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research) at GSI, where the UK will play a significant role in this growing area of atomic science through a collaboration called NuSTAR (Nuclear Structure, Astrophysics and Reactions).

Explore further: Scientists develop way to predict properties of light nuclei

Related Stories

New experiment could reveal make-up of the Universe

August 6, 2009

( -- Scientists at the University of Liverpool are constructing highly sensitive detectors as part of an international project to understand the elements that make up the universe.

First evidence for a spherical magnesium-32 nucleus

February 2, 2011

Elements heavier than iron come into being only in powerful stellar explosions, supernovae. During nuclear reactions all kinds of short-lived atomic nuclei are formed, including more stable combinations – the so-called ...

Tin-100 produced in key nuclear physics experiment

June 20, 2012

A few minutes after the Big Bang the universe contained no other elements than hydrogen and helium. Physicists of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen and the Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research have now succeeded in ...

Recommended for you

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?

Image: Pluto's blue sky

October 9, 2015

Pluto's haze layer shows its blue color in this picture taken by the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The high-altitude haze is thought to be similar in nature to that seen at Saturn's moon ...

How to prepare for Mars? NASA consults Navy sub force

October 5, 2015

As NASA contemplates a manned voyage to Mars and the effects missions deeper into space could have on astronauts, it's tapping research from another outfit with experience sending people to the deep: the U.S. Navy submarine ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.