Neutron Star Collisions Created Most Of The Gold In Universe

Posted: Oct 22 2017, 7:43am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 22 2017, 7:50am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Neutron Star Collisions Created Most of the Gold in Universe
This artist's impression shows two tiny very dense neutron stars smashing into each other. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser

Scientists observe the crash of two neutron stars for the first time. The groundbreaking observation also reveals origin of gold

For the first time, astronomers have directly observed the collision of two neutron stars in a galaxy far away and concluded that these impacts are responsible for creating most of the heavy elements in universe, including gold, platinum and silver.

Gravitational waves from cosmic collisions have been detected before, but they have not been observed directly until now. On August 17, astronomers around the world reacted to a clash between two neutron stars some 130 million light years away. The collision was so powerful it not only produced gravitational waves but also brief flash of light. This was the first time the source of gravitational waves was both seen and heard by the astronomers.

“We witnessed history unfolding in front of our eyes: two neutron stars drawing closer, closer... turning faster and faster around each other, then colliding and scattering debris all over the place.” Co-discoverer Benoit Mours of France's CNRS research institute said in a statement.

The discovery has confirmed that these violent collisions also create huge amounts of gold, platinum, uranium and other heavy elements and spew them into the space, unlocking the mystery of how gold and other precious elements are originally formed.

“It makes it quite clear that a significant fraction, maybe half, maybe more, of the heavy elements in the Universe are actually produced by this kind of collision.” Physicist Patrick Sutton, a member of the US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) said.

The gravitational waves were first detected by the LIGO. Shortly after, Fermi satellite observed a short duration gamma-ray burst, which was later picked up by many telescopes around the world. New findings add evidence to the existence of gravitational waves, which were predicted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago.

"It is tremendously exciting to experience a rare event that transforms our understanding of the workings of the Universe.”France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation which funds LIGO said.

Neutron stars are ancient remnants of star that travel through space and time. They are highly radioactive and cotains more mass than the Sun. When neutron stars collide, they create gravitational waves or cosmic ripples that stretch across the universe and then they eventually merge.

"This discovery has answered three questions that astronomers have been puzzling for decades: what happens when neutron stars merge? What causes the short duration gamma-ray bursts? Where are the heavy elements, like gold, made?” said Dr Samantha Oates from University of Warwick. “In the space of about a week all three of these mysteries were solved."

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