Carbon, carbon everywhere, but not from the Big Bang

May 11, 2011

As Star Trek is so fond of reminding us, we're carbon-based life forms. But the event that jump-started the universe, the Big Bang, didn't actually produce any carbon, so where the heck did it – and we – come from? An NC State researcher has helped create supercomputer simulations that demonstrate how carbon is produced in stars, proving an old theory correct.

More than 50 years ago, an astronomer named Fred Hoyle deduced that when three helium nuclei – or alpha particles – come together inside the core of a star, they have difficulty combining to form carbon-12, the stuff we're made of. So he predicted a new state of carbon-12, one with an energy tuned just right to make the formation of possible in stars. This new state is now known as the Hoyle state. Later experimentation demonstrated that the theory was correct, but no one had ever been able to reproduce the Hoyle state from scratch, starting from the known interactions of protons and neutrons. If the Hoyle state didn't show up in those calculations, then the calculations must be incorrect or incomplete.

NC State physicist Dean Lee, along with German colleagues Evgeny Epelbaum, Hermann Krebs, and Ulf-G. Meissner, had previously developed a new method for describing all the possible ways that protons and neutrons can bind with one another inside nuclei. This "effective field theory" is formulated on a complex numerical lattice that allows the researchers to run simulations that show how particles interact. When the researchers put six protons and six neutrons on the lattice, the Hoyle state appeared together with other observed states of carbon-12, proving the theory correct from first principles.

"We've had simple models of the Hoyle state using three alpha particles for a long time, but the first principles calculations weren't giving anything close," Lee says. "Our method places the particles into a simulation with certain space and time parameters, then allows them to do what they want to do. Within those simulations, the Hoyle state shows up."

Their research appears in the May 13 issue of .

Lee adds, "This work is valuable because it gives us a much better idea of the kind of 'fine-tuning' nature has to do in order to produce carbon in stars."

Explore further: Pinning Down a Proton: Researchers Develop Method to Describe Binding of Protons and Neutrons

More information: "Ab initio calculation of the Hoyle state" Published: May 9 in Physical Review Letters.

The Hoyle state plays a crucial role in the helium burning of stars heavier than our Sun and in the production of carbon and other elements necessary for life. This excited state of the carbon-12 nucleus was postulated by Hoyle as a necessary ingredient for the fusion of three alpha particles to produce carbon at stellar temperatures. Although the Hoyle state was seen experimentally more than a half century ago nuclear theorists have not yet uncovered the nature of this state from first principles. In this Letter we report the first ab initio calculation of the low-lying states of carbon-12 using supercomputer lattice simulations and a theoretical framework known as effective field theory. In addition to the ground state and excited spin-2 state, we find a resonance at -85(3)  MeV with all of the properties of the Hoyle state and in agreement with the experimentally observed energy.

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5 / 5 (1) May 11, 2011
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5 / 5 (1) May 11, 2011
Hopefully no one that might read PhysOrg.asm with understanding thought that carbon was synthesized in the Big Bang. Neither was Silicon the next most likely basis of life but for being 0.15 the abundance of carbon in this Galaxy, Carbon-12 = 4600 ppm. Silicon is fusion-burned from two O-16 nuclei.
1 / 5 (16) May 11, 2011
Do you still believe in the Big Bang? If you read how Time and Temperature was needed to "create" elements along the way, you will be astounded that someone went to all the trouble to project this nonsense; all in the hopes of making the Big Bang work. It does not.

My belief is that there was a first Sun, that did not explode.
From Suns came everything. Too simple a thought? Then you still believe that an atom-seed-egg exploded. A first Sun had no need to explode. Look into the dynamic of a Sun and see what elements are produced; from the beginning of time.
4.8 / 5 (10) May 11, 2011
Do you still believe in the Big Bang?... My belief is that there was a first Sun, that did not explode.
From Suns came everything. Too simple a thought?

Yeah, I like making up science-fiction stories about the beginning of the universe, too. If you're going to try to disprove stellar nucleosynthesis, though, it's going to take a little more than that.
not rated yet May 11, 2011
Why doesn't physorg put a spam filter in? I thought this site is supposed to be with the times lol
1 / 5 (1) May 12, 2011
Do you still believe in the Big Bang?
Addressed to me? You will note that I addressed the BB only in the negative, that the BB is not the source of carbon or silicon. The BB, like all of natural history, can only be validated, it cannot be falsified.
1 / 5 (6) May 12, 2011
What this article also helps to prove is that parallel universes have their own particles for life similar to carbon, but different enough to not directly interact with each other kind of like different channels on a television. Am I beginning to make sense?
not rated yet May 12, 2011
So is this new method similar to Feynman diagrams, but in 3-d ?
5 / 5 (2) May 14, 2011
It has been long established that only Hydrogen, Helium, and a little Lithium were produced in the BB. There is some recent speculation that a tiny tiny amount of Beryllium was also produced, but certainly nothing higher than that.

This article is simply about having numerical models reach the level of sophistication to produce the Hoyle carbon. This is an energized C12 nuclei which is part of the solar energy cycle. Thats all it is. Nothing else.

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