Colliding neutron stars leave massive amounts of gold and platinum behind

Shane McGlaun - Oct 21, 2020, 5:01am CDT
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Colliding neutron stars leave massive amounts of gold and platinum behind

The illustration below shows a hot, dense, expanding cloud of debris stripped away from neutron stars just before they collide. The collision between two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole is known as a kilonova. NASA’s illustration of a kilonova shows the cloud in both visible and infrared light.

Inside the collision’s neutron-rich debris, large quantities of some of the heaviest elements on earth are created. Most surprisingly is that within that debris cloud are hundreds of Earth masses of gold and platinum. If you’ve never heard the word kilonova, don’t feel bad.

Most are familiar with the word supernova, which is when a star much more massive than our Sun goes out in a gigantic explosion. Supernova explosions are some of the most massive explosions known to man. While a kilonova isn’t as bright as a supernova, a kilonova can be 1000 times brighter than the nova created when a white dwarf explodes.

Kilonovas are responsible for spreading gold throughout the universe. Neutron stars are a sort of stellar corpse that is produced by a supernova. They are extremely dense husks that remain after stars explode with a composition mainly of neutrons measuring about a dozen miles wide.

While they are very small, they have an entire star’s mass, making them more massive than the sun in a tiny volume with an intense magnetic field. Scientists say that a teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh 1 billion tons. The only thing stopping neutron stars from collapsing in on itself to create a black hole are pressures so extreme that quantum mechanics prevent the collapse. Scientists were able to view the aftermath of a pair of neutron stars colliding earlier this year when on August 17, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory and Virgo Gravitational Wave Observatory detected a signal of a collision from a galaxy called NGC 4493 located 130 million light-years away.


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