Research News (August 01, 2001)
Gold from Colliding Stars?
The most abundant elements, such as oxygen and carbon, are thought to be the products of stellar burning and finally exploding stars, or supernovas. Scientists agree this is the origin of most materials found on Earth. But conditions in these stars are not extreme enough to produce heavier elements such as gold and platinum. Where does it come from?
An article in the May/June issue of Gold News, published by The Gold Institute, describes the theory that has emerged from a team of astronomers from the universities of Leicester, U.K., and Basel, Switzerland, led by Stephan Rosswog. The team believes the heaviest elements formed by violent collisions of super-dense neutron stars. They are the burned-out centres of long-dead stars; each one weighs a million times more than the Earth, condensed into an area the size of New York City.
According to Rosswog, when a pair of neutron stars collide with each other, an enormous amount of energy is released and large quantities of gold and platinum are tossed into space. When the stars finally collapse, they form “black holes”, while the leftover ash, containing heavy metals, continues to fly into space.
For more information contact Stephan Rosswog at [email protected]
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This computer simulation shows two neutron stars colliding and ejecting spiral arms of superheated materials, including heavy metals such as gold. Computer simulation by S. Rosswog; visualization by R. West.