Astronomers have cataloged signs of nine heavy metals in the infrared light from supergiant and giant stars.
New observations based on this catalog will help researchers to understand how events like binary neutron star mergers have affected the chemical composition and evolution of our own Milky Way Galaxy and other galaxies.
Right after the Big Bang, the universe contained only hydrogen and helium. Other elements were formed later through nuclear fusion in stars or violent events like supernovae or binary neutron star mergers. However, the details of the various processes and their relative contributions are still poorly understood. Better understanding of the chemical evolution of galaxies is important to understand how the rich element environment of planets like Earth came to be. In particular, metals heavier than nickel can be used to trace violent events such as binary neutron star mergers.