The collision of two dense neutron stars has sent ripples through spacetime, and offered scientists an incredible opportunity.
In an astonishing new development, scientists have detected material being ejected from two merging neutron stars in an astronomical first. And scientists think that these intensely powerful collisions may be the events the create the heaviest elements in the universe.
It was back in August that astronomers first witnessed the merger of two neutron stars, which are the husks of large stars destroyed by massive explosions known as supernovas at the end of their lives. Neutron stars are incredible small and dense at just 12 miles in diameter or so, with just a teaspoon of neutron-star material representing about a billion tons.
Scientists observed wavelengths of light released by GW170817 that indicated newly synthesized elements. Scientists believe these incredible collisions are so powerful that they can synthesize elements like lead, platinum, and gold.
“The neutron-star merger announced in October has solved one mystery – where gold comes from – but has also raised other questions, an international team reports today in the journal Nature,” reads the University of Sydney statement. “The merger, dubbed GW170817, took place 130 million light-years away and was detected in August by the gravitational waves it created. Astronomers then followed it up with conventional telescopes. The collision’s glowing wreckage generated radio waves, detected by international teams including an Australian one led by Associate Professor Tara Murphy (The University of Sydney and the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics).”