According to the standard model of the Big Bang, the only elements created during that event were hydrogen, helium and some lithium; the rest were brewed in the stars. Over the past few decades nuclear astrophysicists have sorted out the complex chain of stellar reactions responsible for the observed abundances of the isotopes, with remarkable success in all the most critical reactions but one: C(α,γ)1612. This reaction is a key stepping‐stone in the synthesis of heavier elements, linking the stage that burns helium to produce carbon and oxygen with the later stages fueled by those elements. If helium burning yields more or less oxygen or carbon, it is predicted that the later stages will be strongly affected, and so will the ultimate fate of massive stars.

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