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Neutron star mergers might not be the only source of r-process elements in the Milky Way

Côté, Benoit; Eichler, Marius; Arcones, Almudena; Hansen, Camilla J.; Simonetti, Paolo; Frebel, Anna; Fryer, Chris L.; Pignatari, Marco; Reichert, Moritz; Belczynski, Krzysztof; Matteucci, Francesca


Benoit Côté

Marius Eichler

Almudena Arcones

Camilla J. Hansen

Paolo Simonetti

Anna Frebel

Chris L. Fryer

Marco Pignatari

Moritz Reichert

Krzysztof Belczynski

Francesca Matteucci


Probing the origin of r-process elements in the universe represents a multidisciplinary challenge. We review the observational evidence that probes the properties of r-process sites, and address them using galactic chemical evolution simulations, binary population synthesis models, and nucleosynthesis calculations. Our motivation is to define which astrophysical sites have significantly contributed to the total mass of r-process elements present in our Galaxy. We found discrepancies with the neutron star (NS–NS) merger scenario. When we assume that they are the only site, the decreasing trend of [Eu/Fe] at [Fe/H] > −1 in the disk of the Milky Way cannot be reproduced while accounting for the delay-time distribution (DTD) of coalescence times (∝t −1) derived from short gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and population synthesis models. Steeper DTD functions (∝t −1.5) or power laws combined with a strong burst of mergers before the onset of supernovae (SNe) Ia can reproduce the [Eu/Fe] trend, but this scenario is inconsistent with the similar fraction of short GRBs and SNe Ia occurring in early-type galaxies, and it reduces the probability of detecting GW170817 in an early-type galaxy. One solution is to assume an additional production site of Eu that would be active in the early universe, but would fade away with increasing metallicity. If this is correct, this additional site could be responsible for roughly 50% of the Eu production in the early universe before the onset of SNe Ia. Rare classes of supernovae could be this additional r-process source, but hydrodynamic simulations still need to ensure the conditions for a robust r-process pattern.


Côté, B., Eichler, M., Arcones, A., Hansen, C. J., Simonetti, P., Frebel, A., …Matteucci, F. (2019). Neutron star mergers might not be the only source of r-process elements in the Milky Way. The Astrophysical journal, 875(2), 106.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 17, 2019
Online Publication Date Apr 22, 2019
Publication Date Apr 22, 2019
Deposit Date Apr 27, 2019
Publicly Available Date Apr 29, 2019
Journal The Astrophysical Journal
Print ISSN 0004-637X
Electronic ISSN 1538-4357
Publisher American Astronomical Society
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 875
Issue 2
Pages 106
Keywords Space and Planetary Science; Astronomy and Astrophysics
Public URL
Additional Information Journal title: The Astrophysical Journal; Article type: paper; Article title: Neutron Star Mergers Might Not Be the Only Source of r-process Elements in the Milky Way; Copyright information: © 2019. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.; Date received: 2018-09-07; Date accepted: 2019-03-17; Online publication date: 2019-04-22


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Copyright Statement
© 2019. The American Astronomical Society

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