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The Question

(Submitted July 06, 1997)

How could an element heavier than iron be created? I ask this question because I read somewhere that when a star could not burn iron it exploded into a supernovae.

The Answer

When a supernova explodes, it gets hot enough to drive nuclei and particles together. Nuclei absorb neutrons and protons and can grow to be heavier than iron. This absorbs rather than releases energy, but there is enough energy available in a supernova that this happens anyway.

David Palmer
for 'Ask an Astrophysicist'

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