Collision of neutron stars may have given rise to all gold on Earth

This week scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) revealed that all of the gold on planet Earth may have come from a violent collision of two neutron stars with ultra-dense masses.

"We estimate that the amount of gold produced and ejected during the collision of the two neutron stars can be as large as ten times the mass of the moon, " CfA study leader Edo Berger tells The Washington Post.

Cosmic origin

For many years, scientists had theorized that the heavier elements of the periodic table, such as gold, platinum, lead, and uranium, originated from supernova explosions.

And it was not just the elements of the periodic table that had cosmic origin. Even we have a few stars inside our body, coming from carbon and oxygen, for example, all from big supernova explosions. However, new evidence suggests that gold and other heavier elements do not come from supernovae, but from neutron stars, which are the collapsed nuclei of stars that exploded in supernovae.

All that glitters

Image Source: Playback / Cfa

To reach this conclusion, astronomers observed on June 3 - via NASA's Swift satellite - a strong flash of light called the "short-lived gamma ray burst" (GRB) that took place in the constellation Leo in a galaxy 3.9 billion light years from Earth.

From this they quickly deduced (with the help of some other studies and theories) that what they saw was the radioactive glow of a gigantic mass of heavy metals created following a collision of neutron stars.

According to scientists' assessments, these June explosions - resulting from the collision - produced a surprising amount of heavy atoms. According to calculations, the material could be about 20 times the mass of the earth in gold, enough to fill 100 trillion tankers. However, the amount of platinum is even higher, being seven times higher than gold.