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Colliding, Exploding Stars May Have Created All the Gold On Earth 133

coondoggie writes "Two dead stars smashing into each other and releasing massive amounts of energy may have created all of the heavy elements such as gold found on Earth. That's the main conclusion of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) researchers who estimated such a collision and subsequent blast of energy known as a gamma-ray burst produced and ejected as much as 10 moon masses worth of heavy elements — including gold."
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Colliding, Exploding Stars May Have Created All the Gold On Earth

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  • Old news? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I thought this was old news.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, this story was originally posted 1 billion years ago, and then again about every 100 million years since. Sheesh.

    • Nah, it's old news when it's read on Coast to Coast AM. :-D

      • by Seumas ( 6865 )

        With your new host, George Snoorey.

        Man, I miss when that show as a jaded Art Bell listening to crazy psueo-science guys, instead of the book-pimping religion-fest of nap-inducing Noorey.

        • by I'm New Around Here ( 1154723 ) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @12:01AM (#44314733)

          I never have gotten the appeal of that show. I catch it every so often when I'm driving to or from a late install job. Every time it's some caller talking about being visited by aliens, or a guest proclaiming he has proof of the loch ness monster. Or worse yet, healing powers of crystals/pyramids/the mind. After a few minutes I have to turn it back to something rational.

          And it's not that I don't believe in aliens and some of the other stuff on CtC, but these people are like 3rd graders in their proof and arguments.

          • by Seumas ( 6865 )

            Coast to Coast with Art Bell was an amazing show. His voice was a great partner through late dark nights (Noorey's is bland and annoying). He had on crazy guests and random-ass callers and they reveled in alien/conspiracy/ghost/multi-dimensional/pseudo-science-bullshit glory for like five hours every night. Yeah, you had to suspend your disbelief (and you got the sense that Art Bell felt the same way -- he entertained his guests and callers, but was always questioning and clearly sort of "in on the fun"), b

            • I remember hearing back in 1998 how Area 51 had strange aircraft with square boxes under them, and huge booms and glows.

              Having worked on the 1987 US Pavillion display of the NASP for the Bourget airshow, I thought, "oh, so that's where we have the NASP/hypersonic plane".

              Turned out later it was the Aurora.

            • I couldn't agree more. Art was fantastic. I discovered the show around 94 listening to a show with Richard Hoagland talking about alien bases on the moon. I was fascinated....until I saw the "evidence" that Hoagland was talking about. Clearly Hoagland was a total kook, but I was hooked after that. When Noorey took over I was disgusted. Noorey had terrible guests, and never followed through with the obvious questions that were just begging (screaming) to be asked. For a few years after that I could on
        • by irving47 ( 73147 )

          New host? Are you going for some sort of super-deluxe, double-catch-22 in reference to the word new? :)

          Yeah, I miss Art Bell a lot. I liked Barbara Simpson, on the weekends, several years ago, too. I haven't listened in over a year, since our cumulus station switched to Red-Eye Radio. It sounds like it's gotten worse? Does he still have Ed Dames and Steve Quayle?

          • by Seumas ( 6865 )

            I didn't listen for years. When I listened again, Noorey had taken over. I listened for a week and never tuned in again. It shouldn't even have the name of the same show. Art wasn't about politics and religion. He was about crazy conspiracies and ghosts and aliens and absurd scientific claims and interdimensional stuff and One-World-Government crazy stuff. And he was clearly often just having a laugh to himself as he interviewed nutjobs with their nutjob claims.

            Noorey is like one long infomercial where he a

            • Heh heh, yeah, I remember those shows. I called on one of the Mel's Hole shows when the subject of an official Mel's Hole drink came up. I suggested it should be served with chili because "dead cows must be involved."

              I miss the old show with Art too. These days, I just check it out from time to time and usually switch back to my mp3 player at work. My original comment was about the fact that many of the news stories at the beginning of the show seem to come from here.

              The shows where Art interviewed George C

    • Re:Old news? (Score:5, Informative)

      by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @11:21PM (#44314561)

      TFA/TFS is misleading. The reported discovery:
      * is not about gold can be created only by the collision of two stars (the supernova nucleosynthesis [] is still another channel, very probable the main one)
      * is not about gold on Earth being originated in the collision of two start
      * is about the collision of a neutron star which, besides producing a gamma-ray burst (due to acceleration of charged particles), have shown an afterglow characteristic to decays of "too neutron rich" nuclei into more stable elements (gold included)

      Besides, the authors are not even sure

      "We've been looking for a 'smoking gun' to link a short gamma-ray burst with a neutron star collision. The radioactive glow from GRB 130603B may be that smoking gun," said Wen-fai Fong, a graduate student at the CfA and a co-author of the paper.

      • Re:Old news? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @11:58PM (#44314723)

        How you gonna get page views without incoherent, misinformed rambling?

        You're no fun any more. /snark

        • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

          How you gonna get page views without incoherent, misinformed rambling?

          While this may be true for other classes of readers, I believe the readers of /. would still find interesting the information of "possible collision between two neutron star detected".
          But maybe I'm wrong in my belief.

          You're no fun any more. /snark

          Even I find myself grumpier and older as the time passes (which is no fun, indeed), I'm not grumbling on this account.
          Even letting aside the opportunity for me for some cheap karma-whoring, whoever is interested will still find the pertinent information no matter how sensationalistically-infla

      • Rumplestiltskin! Rumplestiltskin! RUMPLESTILTSKIN!
    • Re:Old news? (Score:5, Informative)

      by black3d ( 1648913 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @11:22PM (#44314569)

      The difference between this and the common knowledge is that the gold wasn't produced inside a single exploding star. As Neil deGrasse Tyson would eloquently phrase it - almost all the matter in our bodies and indeed on our planet is produced by a star going supernova and "spewing it's enriched guts throughout the cosmos".

      For gold and some other heavy elements, the fusion of a star, even one going supernova, still can't produce these elements. These need a much bigger bang - that produced by TWO stars colliding together for a truly spectacular energetic detonation. The finding of these researchers isn't to suggest that this is just where gold on earth came from, but they're stating that all the heavy elements in the universe can only come about in similar cataclysmic events - rather than merely from a single star dying.

      • I should clarify, as c0lo has pointed out - this information isn't the "discovery" as such, but that this is what the article is largely about. The actual discovery regarding a particular detonation in question is only covered briefly in one paragraph. That is, they have discovered evidence of a gamma burst which supports the theory previously discussed.

      • Re:Old news? (Score:5, Informative)

        by dido ( 9125 ) <{hp.muirepmi} {ta} {odid}> on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @11:53PM (#44314697)

        Not sure if that is true. Ordinary stellar nucleosynthesis can only produce elements up to iron, because nuclear fusion of iron or any other heavier element produces less binding energy per nucleon, and thus cannot be a viable means of producing energy for a star. The s-process [] that takes place in stars prior to going supernova is capable of producing elements like gold, all the way up to bismuth. Heavier elements are produced by the r-process [], that is supposed to occur in core collapse supernovae.

        • Absolutely - I'm not arguing the merits of the article, I was just relaying the "news" it presented, to OP. There's plenty of contention on this issue. We all agree the stuff came "from stars", but there's still plenty of debate as to which kind, which stage, and which elements for each of the above. :) I really should put in a "I am not an astrophysicist and this is not necessarily my opinion" disclaimer in there.

        • At the risk of asking a stupid question, I understand why anything heavier than iron can't yield energy for a star, but I can't see why heavier elements can't be produced in the extreme conditions inside a star, even if it isn't net energy producing.

      • That is some interesting pedantry. Thank you.

      • you are talking out of your ass. certain stars without even going supernova produce half the heavy elements in the universe including gold, look up "s-process". supernova produced the other half, look up "r-process".

        • Huh? I was explaining what the article said, not making any claims about it's accuracy. Chill-pills. Take two with water and call me in the morning.

          • forward my objections by snail-mail to the author then. also, poop in the envelope before sealing it.

    • I was squinting, shaking my head, and wondering how the hell they thought we got gold in the first place. Isn't this ridiculously obvious?

  • Everything I read on astrophysics and cosmology theorized that they were made in supernova explosions. And why would anyone link to for astrophysics news?

    • Re:Not supernovae? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rusty0101 ( 565565 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @11:30PM (#44314619) Homepage Journal

      I suspect that the concern of heavy elements being supernova products has to do with the short duration of the event, the perceived amount of time needed to generate the heavey elements involved, and the apparent distribution of heavy elements compared to the percieved age of the universe. Additionally while supernova events are not likely to be the sources of the high volume of grb events that are being detected. So what would be the products of grb's, and what are the likely causes of the events in the first place, if you eliminate the possibility of a grb being the result of supernova events even larger than what we think is the maximum, you end up having to look at other types of events, stars coliding with each other, dead stars coliding with each other, dead stars coliding with Neutron Stars, Neutron stars coliding with each other, dead stars with neutron stars, stars, dead stars, or neutron stars coliding with black holes, and black holes colliding with each other. Any of these collisions are possible, though of these the most probable are stars with stars, stars with dead stars, and dead stars with dead stars, as the perception is that small stars are far more frequent than stars large enough to collapse in a supernova.

      As far as why to link to, I suspect that the submitter couldn't find a better source.

  • ... for an event like that.
    • They're estimating "10 moon masses" worth just for the gold and other heavy elements. There'd still be tens-of-thousands of "moon-masses" worth of more common elements produced as well.

      • But isn't that just over 2 earth masses? Still seems small coming from an object the size of a star, let alone two of them.

        • by mark-t ( 151149 )
          Agreed. There is, if I remember correctly, about a lunar mass worth of gold in the entire solar system alone. And there's about 20 times as much lead as gold. I think about 100 lunar masses worth of heavy elements is probably a better estimate.
          • Lead is a special case because it is an especially stable nucleus, and can be created by the s-process in asymptotic giant branch stars (ie., no supernova required). Not that your ratios are wrong, but extrapolation from the r-process alone (ie., supernova or something similar required) would be inaccurate.
        • by cffrost ( 885375 )

          But isn't that just over 2 earth masses? Still seems small coming from an object the size of a star, let alone two of them.

          Note that these are neutron stars [] being referenced here — they possess some unusual and extreme physical properties. Excerpted from Wikipedia:

          A typical neutron star has a mass between about 1.4 and 3.2 solar masses [...] with a corresponding radius of about 12 km [...] In contrast, the Sun's radius is about 60,000 times that. Neutron stars have overall densities [...] of 3.7×1017 to 5.9×1017 kg/m3 (2.6×1014 to 4.1×1014 times the density of the Sun), which compares with the approxi

          • by cffrost ( 885375 )

            I'm sorry, I neglected to repair the exponents in the text I copied and pasted:

            A typical neutron star has a mass between about 1.4 and 3.2 solar masses [...] with a corresponding radius of about 12 km [...] In contrast, the Sun's radius is about 60,000 times that. Neutron stars have overall densities [...] of 3.7×10^17 to 5.9×10^17 kg/m3 (2.6×1014 to 4.1×10^14 times the density of the Sun), which compares with the approximate density of an atomic nucleus of 3×10^17 kg/m3. [...] Thi

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        There's about a lunar mass worth of gold *ALONE* in the solar system. And there are several heavier elements than gold that are much more common (lead coming to mind as one obvious one). I'dthink the mass of all of the heavy elements in the solar system combined is probably closer to 100 to 200 lunar masses.
        • There's about a lunar mass of gold in my Madoff fund potfolio.

          Oh, wait a minute, that's out of date. I need to see how the fund has been doing recently. Anyone know how to look up that listing?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Looking at the abundance of elements in the solar system (Wikipedia has a chart [], but if you don't trust wikipedia, it looks about the same as the one in a textbook I have an in other papers), there is about a 11 orders of magnitude difference between the hydrogen in the solar system and the amount of gold (actually slightly more, but we'll round down for convenience). For back of the envelope you can just use the mass of the sun for the solar system (or add 0.14% if you are being picky), and you can see th

  • by OhANameWhatName ( 2688401 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @11:16PM (#44314543)
    .. smash two stars together, close enough to the earth to collect all of the gold .. GOLD!!!
    • by mlheur ( 212082 )

      Holds true for hollywood stars too - smash them together, collect the gold bits that scatter.

    • .. smash two stars together, close enough to the earth to collect all of the gold .. GOLD!!!

      Well, then it isn't that rare anymore and the value would go down.

      We need to prevent the collision of neutron stars -AND- prevent supernovae. Now that would be a value no one can refuse. Well, until everyone's been shot in the natural course of theft but that's beside the point. /snark :)

    • .. smash two stars together, close enough to the earth to collect all of the gold .. GOLD!!!

      Please don't tell the Chinese gold farmers.

    • And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold.
    • smash two stars together

      I hear they pay a lot for baby pictures.

  • I thought our heavy elements came mostly from the short-lived first generation of hypergiant hydrogen stars going supernova. If this theory is true, then are we lucky to have so much on this planet? I think about all the lead here, much of which is the end product of nuclear decay over billions of years from radioactive elements that must have been more abundant at some point.

    I also wonder if our protoplanetary disc acted like a gold pan during the formation of the solar system, so Mercury might have lots o

    • by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @11:28PM (#44314603)

      I thought our heavy elements came mostly from the short-lived first generation of hypergiant hydrogen stars going supernova.

      Supernova nucleosynthesis is still the main mechanism for creation of elements heavier than Fe. The guys report that they think other type of events may lead to the creation of heavy elements and they believe we already witnessed such an event []

    • by mlheur ( 212082 )

      What does ET think is "attractive"? - if they find H2O attractive then we're screwed.

  • I thought that elements heavier than iron were created in supernova explosions- have they been ruled out as a source? It seems like they are more common than "Two dead stars smashing into each other" would be. They're not even mentioned in TFA.

    • it doesn't even take a supernova, half of the mass of elements with greater atomic number than iron are produced by the "s-process", which is neutron capture followed by beta-minus decay into proton.

      In supernova collapse there is the much faster "r-process" capture of neutrons making heavy elements

  • by Beeftopia ( 1846720 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @11:30PM (#44314617)

    Try tracing the calcium in your bones to their origin. It's a very interesting flight of fancy:

    "Calcium comes from stars. In fact, all of the elements that make up your body and the planet Earth itself, other than hydrogen and helium, were made in stars or during during explosions of massive stars." -- []

  • by EzInKy ( 115248 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @11:52PM (#44314695)

    You blow up one sun and everyone expects you to walk on water!

    To those who talk about this encouraging mining remember, the more you have a something the less valuable it tends to be. Sure gold has many industrial uses, but its main value is its perceived relative scarcity. Change that and you will essentially achieve the opposite of the alchemist's dream and turn gold into lead.

    • To those who talk about this encouraging mining remember, the more you have a something the less valuable it tends to be.

      Don't beat up on mining, or you'll force it underground.

      • effective way to conveyor view; that's very deep; hope they don't get shafted; we'll see what pans out

    • The space mining company that's recently been setup should be a gold investors worst nightmare. They could capture a gold asteroid and bring it into earths orbit and slowly deorbit more gold than the entire mining industry can produce every year with little to no cost (for re-entry) once it's in a stable earth orbit. They could easily destroy the entire value of gold and make themselves insanely rich in the process. And it's not just gold, it's any metal, there are asteroids the size of small cities up ther

    • Re:You know (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Artea ( 2527062 ) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @01:52AM (#44315077)
      Wouldn't the abundance of a semi-scarce highly useful industrial product be a net gain for society? Malleable, resistant to corrosion, excellent conductivity, low melting point. Not obtaining more of a useful material in order to maintain scarcity seems counter-productive.
  • ...are you saying Earth was the victim of a planetary-scale golden shower at some point?
  • And alchemists all over the world draw a sigh of dejection.

  • Ok, but you cant prove this for sure, its like me saying that the diamonds could have been from a species that came to earth 100 million years ago when the earth was still in a stage of gas turning into solid, and introduced a special compound that started to form the diamonds inside the crust, and that was done purely to come back hundreds of millions of years later after all the humans had mined the diamonds and then take them without so much needing to mine themselves, and no one would be able to refute

  • by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Thursday July 18, 2013 @09:20AM (#44316705)
    The probability of two stars that are both dead smashing into each other is so unlikely, this is completely ridiculous. That's like making a pool shot from new york to LA blindfolded except a million times less likely and don't forget, they both have to be dead stars.
    • The universe is big. Very big. And old. Very old.

  • Bitcoin reference. Can't let a discussion of currency or precious metals go by without a reference that which is neither.
  • Going back to Hoyle and Fowler's famous paper of 1956 on nucleosynthesis in stars, the "heavy" elements, those heavier than Iron, needed to have some different process than can be run in ordinary stars to create them. This "r" process for rapid neutron capture builds necuiii greater then about mass of 60. For a long time the principle mechanism was thought to be nova and supernova explosions. I gather that the primary article is suggesting gamma ray bursts within our galaxy and before 4.6 BYA as the sourc

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