Gold Came from the Stars

By Selina Haefeli

All the ‘bling’ on the Earth comes from the collision of dead stars, suggest researchers.

Gold is a heavy metal that symbolises wealth, beauty and rarity. It’s been traded, worshipped and fought over for thousands of years. We all know that it’s dug out of the ground before being polished, perfected and sold to a person with a special someone in mind. But most of us wouldn’t have the faintest idea how the precious element first got into to ground and what process resulted in its formation.

Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (CfA) have found evidence that gold on our planet was likely formed by the collision of dead neutron stars.  Such events are called gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and the researchers predict that light emitted from these explosions signifies the creation of heavy elements, such as gold, platinum and uranium. Their findings have been described in The Astrophysical Journal Letters online.

The scientists have been studying one of these extremely energetic explosions called GRB 130603B. The burst was detected by NASA’s Swift satellite in June 2013 and is the nearest to the Earth that’s been spotted to date, although it’s still 3.9 billion light-years away.

“We estimate that the amount of gold produced and ejected during the merger of the two neutron stars may be as large as 10 moon masses – quite a lot of bling!” said lead author Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian CfA .

Before the researchers made their discovery it was commonly assumed that gold was formed during a supernova, which is the huge explosion that occurs when a star dies. But the recent evidence suggests that most, if not all, gold on our planet and throughout the universe was formed by these gamma-ray bursts.

Source: [Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics]

Did you know?

Gold is not only valued for its usefulness as jewellery, it’s also used as a conductor in electrical goods, medical equipment and as a lubricant between the mechanical parts of spacecrafts.