"Colliding neutron stars" by European Space Agency / CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Scientists Think They’ve Found the Ancient Neutron Star Crash That Showered Our Solar System in Gold

May 6, 2019

By Brandon Specktor

Two astronomers think they’ve pinpointed the ancient stellar collision that gave our solar system its cache of precious gold and platinum — some of it, anyway.

In a new study published May 1 in the journal Nature, the duo analyzed the remnants of radioactive isotopes, or versions of molecules with different numbers of neutrons, in a very old meteorite. Then, they compared those values with isotope ratios produced by a computer simulation of neutron star mergers — cataclysmic stellar collisions that can cause ripples in the fabric of space-time.

The researchers found that a single neutron star collision, starting about 100 million years before our solar system formed and located 1,000 light-years away, may have provided our cosmic neighborhood many of the elements heavier than iron, which has 26 protons. This includes about 70% of our early solar system’s curium atoms and 40% of its plutonium atoms, plus many millions of pounds of precious metals like gold and platinum. In total, this single ancient star crash may have given our solar system 0.3% of all its heavy elements, the researchers found — and we carry some of them around with us every day.

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