Origin of heavy elements: r-process nucleosynthesis in neutron star mergers

Jonas Lippuner, Caltech

The Big Bang produced mostly hydrogen and helium. Nuclear fusion in stars produces elements up to iron and supernovae create iron peak elements (A ~ 56). Most of the remaining heavier elements are produced by neutron capture. In this talk, I will discuss the origin of the elements with an emphasis on heavy elements. I will give an overview of the slow and rapid neutron capture processes (s- and r-process) and I will briefly address the open question of the r-process site. I will then describe recent nucleosynthesis results I have obtained with my reaction network code SkyNet. Those results focus on neutron star mergers, which seem to be the most promising site for the r-process. Finally, if time permits, I will discuss the potential optical counterparts of r-process nucleosynthesis events, called kilonovae.