In June, NASA’s Swift X-ray telescope satellite detected a high-energy flash of gamma rays, a “gamma ray burst” called GRB 130603B. This evidence was analyzed by a Harvard research team led by astronomer Edo Berger, who concluded that the blast was likely caused by the collision of two very heavy and exotic neutron stars, and that all of the gold and platinum of Earth is a result of the collision and explosion.
The burst was seen as a signature of the explosive union of two neutron stars, in this case ones some 3.9 billion light-years away (one light year is about 5.9 trillion miles). The team’s findings have been published in an Astrophysical Journal Letters report.
If Berger and his team are correct, you can thank your lucky neutron stars for the rings you wear, and all of the rest of the Earth’s gold.
The lighter elements in the universe, according to scientists, were created by dying stars billions of years ago. In their dying moments, they “cooked up” most of the universes’ lighter elements, like oxygen in the air and calcium in our bones, and blasted it everywhere when they finally exploded.
Astronomers had an explanation for how the universe’s lighter material were created, but heavier atoms, like gold, seemed to defy this explanation, indicating that it and all other heavy metals had different, more exotic origins.
What are neutron stars?
Neutron stars are the the collapsed remains of imploded stars, incredibly dense stellar objects that weigh at least 1.4 times as much as the sun but which are thought to be less than 10 miles wide.
Berger and his research team report that gold is likely created as an aftereffect of the collision of two of these relatively rare “neutron” stars.
According to Berger, ordinary stars explode about once every century in our galaxy, but explosive collisions of two neutron stars happen only about once every 10,000 years. And, in the week after their merger, it appears they spew out gold and other heavy elements.
In the aftermath of the gamma ray burst that NASA’s telescope detected, Berger and his research team saw a yellowish, or golden glow, suggesting that the burst had been caused by two neutron stars colliding, and that a tremendous amount of gold had been released from them.
In this case, we were able to observe it for the first time and see how the merger seems to be producing (the) heavy elements.”
How much gold did the collision of the two neutron stars NASA detected as a gamma ray burst produce?
Berger and his team estimated by observing the cloudy after-effects of the burst that the merger of the two neutron stars produced several moons worth of gold by weight.
That much gold, according to Berger, would dwarf the amount of gold in the Earth’s crust.
At today’s prices, that amount of gold would be worth 10 octillion dollars (That’s $10,000 trillion-trillion or $10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, for anyone counting).”
Even so, this huge amount of gold would have been only about 1% of the overall mass of the two neutron stars.
In such a collision, sub-atomic particles that blast out would then fuse together to form heavy elements. These elements would be traveling at such a high rate of speed that they would escape the black hole that inevitably would form after the merger of the two neutron stars.
If the interpretation of what they saw is correct, the Harvard team, according to astrophysicist Hans-Thomas:
…might have discovered the ‘smoking gun’ for unraveling the long-standing mystery which objects in the universe are responsible for the production of gold and platinum and other heavy elements.”
These collisions of neutron stars are the likely origins for the gold that accumulated in Earth’s crust some 4.54 billion years ago. The gold was “swept up” from space at the birth of the solar system, and now seen in jewelry store windows.
Though the observation of this gamma ray blast result indicates the likely origin of gold and other heavy metals is the result of colliding neutron stars, astronomers will have to observe more similar blasts before they are all that confident about their findings.
The rings you wear, your bracelets, necklaces, etc., may have wound up on your body due to “one of the most violent explosions in the universe: a gamma-ray burst that is produced when two neutron stars merge with each other, according to astrophysicist Stephen Rosswog of Germany’s Jacobs University Bremen.
It might be true that our fates lie not in the stars but in ourselves; but, it might be equally true that the gold we have wound up on the Earth because of the collision of neutron stars billions of years ago.
Written by: Douglas Cobb