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By Kelly Perlman September 25, 2013

Golden Beginnings

All that glitters is not gold. This expression is true scientifically––gold is very precious in comparison to most other metals, but it is only one among many metals which shine and gleam, as many metals are indeed lustrous. Nevertheless, since antiquity, gold has been considered very valuable in terms of its economic significance, its aesthetic appeal, its importance to royal families, sports victors, as well as its benefit to many scientific experiments and products. Yet scientists have not even been sure how it appeared in our solar system. However, this question is finally beginning to be answered.

Scientists, such as Edo Berger, lead author and researcher at the Harvard-Smithson Center for Astrophysics, have recently made the claim that gold originated from collisions of dead stars, which happened a very long time ago, even before the birth of our solar system. That’s about 4.5 billion years ago. These collisions are rare and are also very short; as short as a fraction of a second. So how is it possible that these extremely short collisions that took place such a long time ago gave way to the gold in your necklace or watch? The theory is that gold and other precious metals are the byproducts of these cosmic collisions. According to an article on the CBC website, entitled “Dead Stars Colliding Forged Gold on Earth, Study Finds," “heavy metals could be formed when two exotic stars — neutron stars — crash and merge. Neutron stars are essentially stellar relics — collapsed cores of massive stars.’’ So essentially, gold, with all of its 79 protons, came about when two dead, very dense stars violently crashed together.

Scientists such as Berger and his colleagues first studied these collisions because they emit a gamma ray burst, which is incredibly bright.  After each collision there is a brightness that slowly fades, composed mostly of infared light, which can be detected.  Infared light has a longer wavelength than visible light as seen on the electromagnetic spectrum diagram below. This light is emitted from radioactive elements decaying in space.  So out of collision came a number of heavy metals, one of these metals being gold. (Kramer).

This hypothesis also explains why gold is so rare, not only in the Milky Way, but in the entire universe. This type of gamma ray flashes only happen about 100,000 years in the Milky Way (“Dead stars colliding forged gold on Earth, study finds”). Scientists observe these collisions in other galaxies to perform research.

However, these rare collisions produce enormous amounts of heavy metal each time. According to Bergee, ‘"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!"’ However, do not forget that the gold from these collisions are to be distributed across the entire universe, which, contains at the very least 176 billion galaxies, only one of which is our very own Milky Way (Siegel).

The next logical question to ask is: how did the gold from all the way in deep space end up on our planet? This is a question that remains unanswered; although there are some viable hypotheses. One of the most plausible explanations is that gold, along with other metals, was delivered through meteor showers to Earth. At the time of this supposed meteorite shower, the core of the earth was not very dense, and the meteors, on the other hand, were very dense.  Most of the meteors, which contained the gold entered the core and got lodged in the center, while a few remained on the surface (Science Daily magazine).  It is also uncertain how some of the meteors stayed on the surface but it plausible that whether they entered the core or stayed on the surface depended on the velocity and the weight of the meteor.

Dead dense stars colliding to make gold? What an out of this world concept! However, the scientists’ hypothesis is quite logical and conceivable, if you look at all the facts. It will take time and much more research to see if this hypothesis is truly as good as gold.

Works Cited 

"Dead Stars Colliding Forged Gold on Earth, Study Finds." CBC. N.p., 18 July 2013. Web. 24 July 2013. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/07/18/
        sci-earth-gold-star-collision.html>.
Kramer, Miriam. "Gold from Space? Neutron Star Collisions Called Likely Source of Precious Metal on Earth." Huffington Post. N.p., 18 July 2013. Web. 24 July 2013 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/18/gold-space-star-collisions-elements-earth-video_n_3612079.html>.
Siegal, Ethan. "How Many Galaxies Are There in the Universe? The Redder We Look, the More We See." Discover Magazine. N.p., 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 24 July 2013.<http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2012/10/10/how-many-galaxies-are-there-in-the-universe-the-redder-we-look-the-more-we-see/>.
University of Bristol. “Where does all Earth’s Gold come from? Precious metals the result of meteorite bombardment, rock analysis finds.”ScienceDaily. 9 Sep. 2011. Web. 19 Aug. 2013

About the author

Kelly Perlman is a second year Health Science student at Dawson. She loves science, her dog, and chocolate. She wants to remind everyone to treat animals with care, and GO GREEN! 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Andrew, Jiri and Lias for reading over this article!

 

The photograph “Neutron Stars Rip Each Other Apart to form Black Hole” is taken by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center under CC BY 2.0

Comments

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    Victoria Kennedy

    November 3, 2013

    This is an incredible article! After reading it I am still pondering about the information I have just received. Gold really comes from colliding two dead dense stars together? And it’s strange to think that it is possible that gold is still floating around in space. I never would have expected gold to come from something like that. Therefore, I am glad that I read about this because I have always wondered where special metals, like gold, have come from. On a final note, the picture used at the beginning was very eye-catching, and led me to read further into the article.
    Just wow !

  1. space-default-avatar

    Sarah Jones

    November 4, 2013

    This is a very interesting and insightful article. I cannot believe that I had never directly wondered where gold came from exactly nor how it was produced. It makes much sense, however, that such a complex element would be produced by the collision of neutron stars. I’ll definitely try to be more investigative in the future when it comes to the composition of things.  Anyway, just imagine the moment when the first atoms of gold came into being. But no matter how awesome gold is, water, that most likely came to earth through means of comets, is much more precious and life rarer (or is it? Comets and meteors seem to carry in them many useful elements and their size makes them susceptible pulled in by a planets gravity, making life perhaps not as rare as we think).Space is truly an amazing place (and the only place, so to speak). On a slightly different note, nice use of gold related puns, they are of great value!

  1. space-default-avatar

    zambothegreat

    November 7, 2013

    “...these rare collisions produce enormous amounts of heavy metal each time.” \m/

    Although Edo Berger says gamma ray bursts occur about once every 100,000 years, I wonder if it would be possible to reproduce the effect with the Large Hadron Collider within our lifetime. I’m science illiterate, so I don’t know if that would even be possible, but it would be cool. And while ten moon masses of precious metal (relative to what we have on Earth) is a lot, it’s nothing for a near infinite universe. It’s interesting how we place so much value on objects like gold and platinum. Very interesting article!

     

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