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Where did all the gold in the universe come from?

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How was gold first made? For a long time, scientists believed that a violent collision between two neutron stars might have created the heavy elements that we find on Earth… but this was just a theory.

Evidence of such a collision, however, was finally revealed by the 2017 detection of gravitational waves. From nuclear astrophysicist Sanjana Curtis in Scientific American:

“At the time of the crash, our own pale blue planet, in a quiet part of the Milky Way about 130 million light-years away, was home to the dinosaurs.”

“The ripples in spacetime, called gravitational waves, began making their way across the cosmos, and in the time it took them to cover the vast distance to Earth, life on the planet changed beyond recognition. New species evolved and went extinct, civilizations rose and fell, and curious humans began looking up at the sky, developing instruments that could do incredible things such as measure minute distortions in spacetime.

“Eventually the gravitational waves (traveling at light speed) and the light from the merger reached Earth together. Astrophysicists recognized a distinctive glow that showed the presence of new elements. Humanity had just witnessed heavy-element production.”

Presented with poetic wonder, this SciAm video by Jason Drakeford, Clara Moskowitz, and Jeffery DelViscio shares how all the gold in the universe, as well as other β€œheavy metals” were probably made.

Read more in Scientific American: How Star Collisions Forge the Universe’s Heaviest Elements.

a new form of matter
Watch these related videos next:
β€’ The Ring of Truth: Molten gold transforms into gold leaf
β€’Β Decoding the Voyager Golden Record
β€’Β Golden Kingdoms: Luxury & Legacy in the Ancient Americas
β€’Β Gravitational Waves Explained Using Stick Figures
β€’Β Spectroscopy of Stars – Wonders of the Universe
β€’ We Are Dead Stars. Dr. Michelle Thaller explains.

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