The Vera Rubin Observatory (VRO), Euclid, NGRST, JWST and LISA are only some of the ambitious projects that will open a new window on the origin of the elements

Supernovae, novae and exotic merger events involving white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes, ultimately shape the chemical history of the Universe and its constituent galaxies. Despite the critical importance of these events, there are still many key open-questions which impact our understanding of the origin of the elements. For example, what is the nature of type Ia supernova progenitors? How did the first stars evolve and explode? Which cosmic site forms the heaviest stable elements?

Construction progress of the Vera Rubin Observatory at Cerro Pachón. Credits: Wil O’Mullane 2019-09-11. Link to the license

Key to answering these questions are the new observational facilities starting operations in the very near future, such as the Vera Rubin Observatory (VRO), Euclid, NGRST, JWST and LISA, which are opening a new window on the Universe. For example, VRO will increase the number of SNe discovered in the whole history of astronomy by a factor of ~1000 over the next decade, JWST will hunt for the unobserved formation of the first stars and galaxies, and unprecedented clues about supernova progenitors will be revealed by gravitational waves from compact binaries detected by LISA. Additionally, the chemical elements injected from transient events into the interstellar medium are locked up for many Gyr in low-mass stars scattered throughout the Milky Way. A number of ground-based spectroscopic surveys (e.g., APOGEE, HERMES-GALAH, Gaia-ESO) are measuring up to 30 chemical abundances to unprecedented precision for millions of such stars, and new instruments on ground-based telescopes (such as ERIS and MOONS on VLT) will provide detailed studies of metallicity gradients or metallicity calibrations for high-redshift galaxies. In parallel, recent advances in chemical evolution modelling, as well as improvements to our understanding of stellar nucleosynthesis from nuclear (astro)physics and stellar evolution codes, are providing detailed predictions for these observational data.

A great time for wide and effective collaborations

Astronomers aim to bring together all experts that are necessary for this quest, i.e., from nuclear (astro)physics, stellar evolution, nucleosynthesis, galactic observations and simulations, high-cadence observations. It is clear that the main goal must be to promote interactions and discuss strategies to progress our knowledge with the unprecedented size of data-set that upcoming surveys will produce. In short, we are witnessing the beginning of a very exciting phase for astrophysical research, with a wealth of an unprecedented size of new insights and data that will bring enormous progress in our knowledge of the Universe over the next decade.


Korol et al. MNRAS 470, 1894-1910 (2017)

Chiaki Kobayashi et al 2020 ApJ 900 179

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