Colliding stars spark rush to solve cosmic mysteries

Oct 16, 2017

by Davide Castelvecchi

Gold, platinum, uranium and many of the rare-earth elements that are crucial to today’s high-tech gadgets are generated during the formation of black holes, astronomers have said. The collision of two small but dense stars simultaneously solved several cosmic mysteries, researchers announced at a press conference in Washington DC on 16 October. More than 30 papers have been published so far in five journals — Physical Review Letters, Science, Nature, Nature Astronomy and Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Astronomers watched as two neutron stars — small but very dense objects formed after the collapse of stars bigger than the Sun — collided and merged, forming a black hole, in a galaxy 40 million parsecs (130 million light years) away, according to two dozen researchers interviewed by Nature’s News team.

The collision generated the strongest and longest-lasting gravitational-wave signal ever seen on Earth. And the visible-light signal generated during the collision closely matches predictions made in recent years by theoretical astrophysicists, who hold that many elements of the periodic table that are heavier than iron are formed as a result of such stellar collisions.

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