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Nature. 2005 Jun 30;435(7046):1203-5.

The U/Th production ratio and the age of the Milky Way from meteorites and Galactic halo stars.

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Origins Laboratory, Department of the Geophysical Sciences, Enrico Fermi Institute, and Chicago Center for Cosmochemistry, The University of Chicago, 5734 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago Illinois 60637, USA.


Some heavy elements (with atomic number A > 69) are produced by the 'rapid' (r)-process of nucleosynthesis, where lighter elements are bombarded with a massive flux of neutrons. Although this is characteristic of supernovae and neutron star mergers, uncertainties in where the r-process occurs persist because stellar models are too crude to allow precise quantification of this phenomenon. As a result, there are many uncertainties and assumptions in the models used to calculate the production ratios of actinides (like uranium-238 and thorium-232). Current estimates of the U/Th production ratio range from approximately 0.4 to 0.7. Here I show that the U/Th abundance ratio in meteorites can be used, in conjunction with observations of low-metallicity stars in the halo of the Milky Way, to determine the U/Th production ratio very precisely (0.57(+0.037)(-0.031). This value can be used in future studies to constrain the possible nuclear mass formulae used in r-process calculations, to help determine the source of Galactic cosmic rays, and to date circumstellar grains. I also estimate the age of the Milky Way (14.5(+2.8)(-2.2)Gyr in a way that is independent of the uncertainties associated with fluctuations in the microwave background or models of stellar evolution.


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