The first-ever recording of a kilonova, the collision and merger of two neutron stars has taken the scientific world by storm. With many more question arising, this rare cosmic event did nonetheless also offer an answer to a long-withstanding question.
Astrophysicists have been wondering and hypothesizing about the origin of gold, silver, and other similar heavy elements. Now, thanks to the kilonova, specialists believe to have finally found an answer.
Gold and Silver Are of Cosmic Origins
The neutron star collision and merger were detected on August 17, and specialists have been analyzing the observations ever since. In a first time ever, scientists got to record both gravitational waves and gamma-ray outburst coming from the same source. They also captured the light emitted by this cosmic cataclysm.
This same light, observed after the merger, helped establish the origin of heavy elements. Researchers went to compare its color and brightness to the existing mathematical predictions.
“No one had ever seen a neutron star merger up close before. Putting together the complete picture of such an event involves a wide range of physics – general relativity, hydrodynamics, nuclear physics, atomic physics. To combine all that and come up with a prediction that matches the reality of nature is a real triumph for theoretical astrophysics,” states Brain D. Metzger
The observations gathered during the live kilonova not only helped confirm the origin theory of gold and silver, but they also helped estimate how much heavy elements were produced during the event.
Mathematical modeling helped calculate the chemical makeup and amount of material produced by the collision. This way, specialists estimated that the kilonova led to the creation of about 6 percent of “a solar mass of heavy elements”. This includes around 200 Earth masses of gold and almost 500 Earth masses of platinum.
Based on the latest observation and the newest models, scientists now believe that neutron star mergers must have created all the gold in the Universe. This same phenomenon is also considered to account for the creation of around half of all the other heavier than iron elements.
Initially, the predictions tied the appearance of heavy elements to ordinary supernovae.
A paper with the updated model and current research findings is available in the journal Nature.
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