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When neutron stars collide...we get gold?


Dalia Ibrahim
Digital Reporter

Sunday, September 8, 2013, 5:42 PM -

Ancient Egyptians buried their dead with it. Wedded couples symbolize their everlasting love for one another with it placed on their left ring finger. And if you're a baby boomer, it is highly likely that the dentist may have filled your mouth with it. 

By now you may have guessed it -- we're talking about gold. Bright, shiny, yellow gold. 

But ever wonder where it comes from? 

New results from studies of a gamma-ray burst (GRB) on June 3rd, suggests gold could be created in the collision of two neutron stars. 

This artist's conception portrays two neutron stars at the moment of collision. New observations confirm that colliding neutron stars produce short gamma-ray bursts. Such collisions produce rare heavy elements, including gold. All Earth's gold likely came from colliding neutron stars. (Credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.)

This artist's conception portrays two neutron stars at the moment of collision. New observations confirm that colliding neutron stars produce short gamma-ray bursts. Such collisions produce rare heavy elements, including gold. All Earth's gold likely came from colliding neutron stars. (Credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.)

"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 Center for Astrophysics (CfA), in a press release published on the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics website.

Unlike elements like carbon or iron, gold cannot be created with a star. Instead, scientists say it takes a 'cataclysmic event', such as that GRB of three months ago. 

Gamma-ray bursts come in two varieties - long and short - depending on how long the flash of gamma rays lasts. GRB 130603B, detected by NASA's Swift satellite on June 3rd, lasted for less than two-tenths of a second.

The team of scientists calculate that 1 percent of the suns mass of material was ejected at the time of the crash, including some of which was gold. 

By combining the estimated gold produced by a single short GRB with the number of such explosions that have occurred over the age of the universe, all the gold in the cosmos might have come from gamma-ray bursts. 

"To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are all star stuff, and our jewelry is colliding-star stuff," concluded Berger.

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