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Colloquium | Physics Division

Nuclear Astrophysics in the New Era of Multimessenger Astronomy

PHY Colloquium

Abstract: Nuclear physics plays a fundamental role in our understanding of a host of astrophysical phenomena, ranging from the production of heavy elements in the cosmos to the structure of neutron stars. Remarkably, laboratory experiments that probe the dynamics of atomic nuclei at much smaller scales impose powerful constraints on these astrophysical phenomena. In turn, the historical first detection of a binary neutron star merger by the LIGO-Virgo collaboration is providing fundamental new insights into the astrophysical site for the creation of the heavy elements, on the nature of dense matter, and on the structure of exotic neutron-rich nuclei. Limits inferred from the gravitational wave emission suggest that neutron stars are fairly compact. At first glance, these limits appear inconsistent with laboratory experiments that measure the thickness of the neutron-skin” in 208Pb. If the upcoming laboratory experiments and gravitational-wave detections confirm that the thickness of the neutron skin is large and that neutron stars are compact, this may be suggestive of a phase transition in the neutron-star interior.