Scientists Discover Most of the Gold in the Milky Way Galaxy Was Created by Neutron Star Explosions

Thursday, 22 March 2018 - 11:26AM
Weird Science
Astronomy
Thursday, 22 March 2018 - 11:26AM
Scientists Discover Most of the Gold in the Milky Way Galaxy Was Created by Neutron Star Explosions
< >
Image credit: YouTube
If you took all of planet Earth's supply of gold, melted it down (minus impurities), and attempted to fill as many Olympic-sized swimming pools as possible, you'd get a quarter of the way through your fourth pool before completely running out of precious metal. There's approximately 157,000 tonnes of gold in the world, and that's it, which is one of the big reasons why the commodity is so valuable.

Hearing about the enormous golden explosions that are caused by neutron stars merging is enough to make anyone's mouth water. When two of these giant stars collide, they burst forth in a cosmic rain of heavy, precious metals, including large amounts of gold and platinum.

If only, you might think, we could get our hands on such an explosion. If only a neutron star merger were close enough that we could send a drone to scrape off just a fraction of this gold to bring back to Earth.

As it turns out, these kinds of mergers are probably responsible for the vast majority of the gold in the galaxy.



Back in August, scientists were able to observe and collect data on a pair of neutron stars, each at least three times bigger than our sun, as they bumped into each other, creating a shower of gold. According to this data, the explosion generated an amount of gold that weighs between 3 and 13 times more than our planet—in other words, this neutron star merger created a not inconsequential amount of gold.

In a new paper analyzing the merger, and speculating on heavy metal reserves throughout the Milky Way, scientists have concluded that these cosmic golden showers (sorry for the mental image) are likely the primary source of gold in the galaxy.

Some of the numbers here involve a little guesswork, but the team estimates that if a merger is happening once or twice a year in a six million light-year square cube of space, then this means that so much gold is being generated that would outweigh the amount of the material that's created during other events such as the collapsing of a supernova.

All of this is purely guesswork—we're never actually going to get to see any of these huge mountains of gold in our lifetime, which is probably a very good thing for the economy—if anyone were to get their hands on all this gold, it would instantly devalue the precious metals present on Earth, as the big reason why gold is so valuable is because there's a finite amount of it within reach.

That said, there would be scientific benefits to being able to extend our gold supply. Gold doesn't react with other elements (which also helps to make it valuable, as it won't rust over time), and as such, it's useful within electronic circuitry. Every modern computer device you own contains some small scraps of gold, and it'd be nice to imagine the kinds of things that engineers could come up with if this valuable resource were a little more freely available.

For now, it's simply fun to speculate. The gold that's floating out in space is a wonderful thing to daydream about, but no matter what, we're not going to be able to lay a finger on it any time in the next few hundred years.
Science
Space
Weird Science
Astronomy
No