This fusion reaction is quite ineffective, however, unless something helps. Using supercomputer models, the researchers found that excess protons in the innermost areas of a supernova can speed up triple alpha fusion reactions, generating 10 times more carbon atoms than expected.
This could explain the extra carbon in the universe, but it creates another mystery. Scientists previously believed that these excess protons were responsible for creating some of the heavier isotopes of ruthenium and molybdenum found in surprising abundance on Earth. “You don’t make these things anywhere else,” besides supernovae, said MSU professor and study co-author Luke F. Roberts.
This means that these isotopes can be generated in other ways, but researchers aren’t sure exactly how. “It’s not easy to find alternatives,” said co-author Hendrik Schatz. However, even though research may have “destroyed[ed] our favorite theory ”, according to Schatz, it should generate some interesting new science. “Progress comes when there is a contradiction,” said Sam Austin, project manager and former director of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Lab.