Astrophysics (Index)About


(abundances of the chemical elements, chemical composition)
(relative amounts of each chemical element)

The abundances of the chemical elements (or just abundances, or chemical composition) are of interest in astrophysics, i.e., to match astrophysical theories to observations. Abundances in stars, planets, moons, and the interstellar medium can be worked out with some reliability through spectroscopy, and study of albedos, using knowledge of basic physical and chemical processes.

The abundances of objects within the solar system (including the Sun) show some consistency, with a pattern that differs from those of other observed stars, suggesting that individual stars and their systems inherit abundance characteristics from the material that formed them, e.g., of specific molecular clouds. Given this conclusion, any divergence from the usual abundance seen throughout the solar system (e.g., the Sun's lack of lithium or Earth's lack of hydrogen and plethora of oxygen) demands reasonable explanation.

Theory is called upon to explain the observed abundances of the solar system (and those of other stars) based upon that of molecular clouds, and those abundances, in turn, on nucleosynthesis such as that within stars and supernovae, and so on, back to the Big Bang. The chemical composition of the universe is determined to some degree and must fit with any such theory, the Big Bang nucleosynthesis and the subsequent chemical evolution, i.e., all the nucleosynthesis since then.

The patterns include ratios between the abundance of elements (abundance ratios), as well as the relative abundances of isotopes of given elements. These are interest through the history of the universe, in the current universe, and in particular settings (e.g., on a particular planet or moon) where they help determine the history of objects and systems. The determination of such ratios for some given material is termed fractionation. Spectrography can determine some of these at a distance, lab analysis can be used for meteorites and Moon rocks, and space probes' on-board mass spectrometers for captured dust and other particles.

Further reading:

Referenced by pages:
Big Bang nucleosynthesis (BBN)
chemical equilibrium (CE)
cosmic dust
cosmic rays (CR)
dark matter annihilation
deuterium (D)
equilibrium condensation model
forward model
Hayashi track
hydrogen cyanide (HCN)
helium (He)
ionization correction factor (ICF)
iron (Fe)
iron peak
Lego principle
lithium (Li)
mass ratio (μ)
metallicity (Z)
Moon formation
nuclear statistical equilibrium (NSE)
presolar grain
signatures of formation
surface abundance
valley of beta stability
volatile material