August 6, 2009

Scientists seek heavenly fingerprint

Experiments by British scientists could reveal the make-up of the universe, the University of Liverpool said Thursday.

The examinations will become part of the Advanced Gamma Tracking Array experiment, which seeks to create a so-called fingerprint of the inside of the atomic nucleus to help scientists understand the universe's structure, including humans and stars, the university said in a release.

Scientists will analyze particle interactions that produce gamma rays, the university said, and use these interactions and the energy required to make them to prove exotic nuclei, formed by nuclear reactions that occur both in the core of stars and the accelerator facilities used to study them on earth.

There is a huge abundance of elements in the universe, but we know very little about why this is, said Andy Boston, of the university's physics department. "We can only begin to understand how these are formed by looking at a broad spectrum of nuclei, beyond those available on earth.

Exotic nuclei have extreme proton and neutron ratios, making them unstable and leading to their quick decay.

If we can understand the structure of these exotic nuclei, then we can begin to understand the abundance of elements in the universe today, Boston said. State-of-the-art computers will help us do this by reconstructing the path of gamma rays ... and recording the energy created.