Pharos-Tribune

Community News Network

July 18, 2013

Origin of gold found in rare neutron-star collisions

Gold — atomic number 79, element symbol Au, the most widely beloved of the precious metals — might have its origin in extremely rare and violent explosions in the far reaches of outer space. The bling apparently begins with a blam.

For many years, scientists had theorized that the heavy elements of the periodic table, such as gold, platinum, lead and uranium, had their origin in supernova explosions. But the source, scientists announced Wednesday, might be even more exotic: the collision of two ultra-dense objects called neutron stars.

"We now have kind of a smoking gun," said Edo Berger, an astronomer who led the research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

The elements on Earth are all of cosmic origin. Carbon and oxygen atoms in our bodies, for example, come from the interior of stars, where they were formed under high pressure and heat. They were later spewed into the universe in supernova explosions. It is literally true, as Carl Sagan was fond of saying, that we are all star stuff.

But what hasn't been known is whether these supernova events could account for the heaviest of the elements. A heavy element such as gold has 79 protons, 79 electrons and 118 neutrons. That's a lot of mass for one atom. Most of the elements are simpler; gold and the other heavy elements are cosmically extravagant.

The neutron stars might provide the explanation.

Neutron stars are the collapsed cores of stars that have exploded in a supernova. A neutron star might be roughly the diameter of Washington but contain as much mass as our sun, all of it crammed together by the force of gravity, until even the atoms have collapsed, leaving the object with the density of an atomic nucleus.

A teaspoon full of neutron-star material would weigh, on Earth, about 5 billion tons, Berger said.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

The Pence administration continues to cut Indiana agency budgets despite a state surplus of $2 billion. Is this wise management of state funds?

Yes
No
Not sure
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
Broncos Owner Steps Down Due to Alzheimer's US, UN Push Shuttle Diplomacy in Mideast Trump: DC Hotel Will Be Among World's Best Plane Crashes in Taiwan, Dozens Feared Dead Republicans Hold a Hearing on IRS Lost Emails Raw: Mourners Gather As MH17 Bodies Transported Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-free Travel Raw: MH17 Bodies Arrive in Netherlands Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Disabled Veterans Memorial Nearing Completion Last Mass Lynching in U.S. Remains Unsolved Home-sharing Programs Help Seniors Ex-NYC Mayor: US Should Allow Flights to Israel Clinton: "AIDS-Free Generation Within Our Reach" Judge Ponders Overturning Colo. Gay Marriage Ban Airlines Halt Travel to Israel Amid Violence Police Probing Brooklyn Bridge Flag Switch
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.