It turns out that unlike many of the elements common on earth gold cannot be created as part of the nuclear reactions in stars as they burn their low atomic weight fuels. So scientists have wondered where gold comes from. They now have an answer to that question:
Unlike elements like carbon or iron, it cannot be created within a star. Instead, it must be born in a more cataclysmic event – like one that occurred last month known as a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). Observations of this GRB provide evidence that it resulted from the collision of two neutron stars – the dead cores of stars that previously exploded as supernovae. Moreover, a unique glow that persisted for days at the GRB location potentially signifies the creation of substantial amounts of heavy elements – including gold.
“We estimate that the amount of gold produced and ejected during the merger of the two neutron stars may be as large as 10 moon masses – quite a lot of bling!” says lead author Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
The alchemists of a few hundred years ago that attempted to turn lead and other common materials into gold apparently just needed much bigger hammers.