Valdosta Daily Times

Community News Network

July 18, 2013

Origin of gold found in rare neutron-star collisions

Gold — atomic number 79, element symbol Au, the most widely beloved of the precious metals — might have its origin in extremely rare and violent explosions in the far reaches of outer space. The bling apparently begins with a blam.

For many years, scientists had theorized that the heavy elements of the periodic table, such as gold, platinum, lead and uranium, had their origin in supernova explosions. But the source, scientists announced Wednesday, might be even more exotic: the collision of two ultra-dense objects called neutron stars.

"We now have kind of a smoking gun," said Edo Berger, an astronomer who led the research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

The elements on Earth are all of cosmic origin. Carbon and oxygen atoms in our bodies, for example, come from the interior of stars, where they were formed under high pressure and heat. They were later spewed into the universe in supernova explosions. It is literally true, as Carl Sagan was fond of saying, that we are all star stuff.

But what hasn't been known is whether these supernova events could account for the heaviest of the elements. A heavy element such as gold has 79 protons, 79 electrons and 118 neutrons. That's a lot of mass for one atom. Most of the elements are simpler; gold and the other heavy elements are cosmically extravagant.

The neutron stars might provide the explanation.

Neutron stars are the collapsed cores of stars that have exploded in a supernova. A neutron star might be roughly the diameter of Washington but contain as much mass as our sun, all of it crammed together by the force of gravity, until even the atoms have collapsed, leaving the object with the density of an atomic nucleus.

A teaspoon full of neutron-star material would weigh, on Earth, about 5 billion tons, Berger said.

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 4.42.47 PM.png VIDEO: Leopard attacks crowd in India

    A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 22, 2014

  • In cuffs... 'Warlock' in West Virginia accused of sexual assault

    Police in West Virginia say a man claiming to be a “warlock” used promises of magical spells to lure children into committing sexual acts with him.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Cats outsmart the researchers

    I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone - anyone - who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world's top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

    April 22, 2014

  • McCain 1 House Republicans are more active on Twitter than Democrats

    Your representative in the House is almost certainly on Twitter. Your senator definitely is. But how are they using the social network? Are Democrats more active than Republicans, or vice versa? Who has the most followers on the Hill?

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Do your genes make you procrastinate?

    Procrastinators, in my experience, like nothing better than explaining away their procrastination: General busyness, fear of failure, and simple laziness are just a handful of the excuses and theories often tossed around. Now researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have added another option to the list: genetics.

    April 21, 2014

  • Do White Castle prices tell us anything about the minimum wage?

    The paper looked at how many delicious steamed sliders the minimum wage has been able to purchase over time. The point is that as it notes, in 1981, the $3.35 minimum could buy a whole dozen. Today, at $7.25, it could purchase just 10.

    April 21, 2014

  • VIDEO: Moose charges snowmobile, flees after warning shot

    While snowmobiling in New England, Bob and Janis Powell of Maine were charged by a moose and caught the entire attack on camera.

    April 21, 2014

  • Can Hillary Clinton rock the cradle and the world?

    What's most interesting to contemplate is the effect becoming a grandmother will have on Hillary's ambition. It's one of life's unfairnesses that a woman's peak career years often coincide with her peak childbearing years.

    April 21, 2014

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 18, 2014

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results