Images snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that gold may have been generated by a violent neutron star collision that also yielded lead, platinum, uranium and other heavy elements.
The stellar smashup was detected on June 3, when NASA’s Swift satellite observed a gamma-ray burst 3.9 billion light-years away. Astrophysicists believe that a crash between two neutron stars, the dense, neutron-rich cores left over after massive stars explode, released the 0.2-second flash of energy.
Images snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope nine days later saw evidence for a bounty of heavy elements amounting to about 1 percent of the sun’s mass and including several moon masses of gold, says Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. Given the amount of gold and the fact that these collisions probably happen once every 10,000 or 100,000 years in any given galaxy, such crashes could account for all of the gold in the universe, he says.