Sandblasting the $r$-process: spallation of ejecta from neutron star mergers

X. Wang, B. D. Fields, M. Mumpower, T. M. Sprouse, R. Surman, N. Vassh

Published ApJ 893 2 (2020)

Neutron star mergers (NSMs) are rapid neutron capture (r-process) nucleosynthesis sites that expel matter at high velocities, from 0.1c to as high as 0.6c. Nuclei ejected at these speeds are sufficiently energetic to initiate spallation nuclear reactions with interstellar medium particles. We adopt a thick-target model for the propagation of high-speed heavy nuclei in the interstellar medium, similar to the transport of cosmic rays. We find that spallation may create observable perturbations to NSM isotopic abundances, particularly around the low-mass edges of the r-process peaks where neighboring nuclei have very different abundances. The extent to which spallation modifies the final NSM isotopic yields depends on: (1) the ejected abundances, which are determined by the NSM astrophysical conditions and the properties of nuclei far from stability, (2) the ejecta velocity distribution and propagation in interstellar matter, and (3) the spallation cross-sections. Observed solar and stellar r-process yields could thus constrain the velocity distribution of ejected neutron star matter, assuming NSMs are the dominant r-process source. We suggest avenues for future work, including measurement of relevant cross sections.


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