JWST Confirms the Formation of Heavy Elements in a Kilonova

Image from JWST’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument displaying GRB 230307A’s kilonova and its former home galaxy, the former of which was found to possess heavy elements. (Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, A. Levan (IMAPP, Warw), A. Pagan (STScI))

A recent study published in Nature investigates recent observations from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and ground-based telescopes of heavy elements within the ejected material of a recent gamma-ray burst (GRB), classified as GRB 230307A, that was likely produced by a kilonova with GRB 230307A being designated as the second-brightest GRB ever detected. The heavy element in question is the chemical element tellurium, which is classified as a metalloid on the periodic table. However, scientists also hypothesize that the element iodine, which is a requirement for most of life on the Earth and classified as a reactive nonmetal, could also exist within the kilonova’s explosion, with both elements residing side-by-side on the periodic table.

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Company Tests Iodine Thruster in Space for the First Time

Ion thrusters have played second fiddle to chemical rockets for most of the history of space exploration.  Part of that is because of their inability to launch payloads into orbit.  But in space, their high thrust-to-weight ratio has plenty of appeal.  Other features have held the technology back, including the difficulty of working with the thruster’s fuel source – xenon.  Now, a team of engineers and scientists from ThrustMe, a French start-up that focuses on developing advanced propulsions systems, have developed an ion thruster that works on an entirely new and much easier to use material – iodine.

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