Here’s a new sales pitch for gold: It is a piece of a star.
A new study from researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics might solve the long-standing mystery of the origin of gold, by proving the yellow metal is produced by cataclysmic star collisions that occur once every 10,000 years.
“Remember this,” David Aguilar, the center’s director of public affairs, said in a press conference. “Next time, you are touching a piece of gold, you are touching the stars.”
According to a statement issued by the center, gold is rare on Earth because it’s rare in the universe; unlike other elements such as carbon or iron, gold cannot be produced in a star.
What appears to be needed to produce gold, the researchers say, is a violent event—specifically the clash of two neutron stars, which causes a black hole. (Neutron stars are the dead cores of stars that previously exploded as supernovae.) When these collide, they produce a gamma ray burst, which creates heavy elements—including gold.
“To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are all star stuff,” said the study’s lead author Edo Berger at the press conference. “And we now know that our jewelry is colliding-star stuff.”
Berger said these collisions occur once every 10,000 to 100,000 years, but produce as much as 10 moon masses worth of gold.
“That’s a lot of bling,” he said, adding that the amount of gold produced by these collisions could be worth, at today’s prices, as much as 10 octillion dollars.
“It has been a long-standing mystery where gold comes from,” Berger added, saying that his research casts doubt on the traditional view that gold is produced in a supernova.
He said that while it’s possibly that a fraction of the world’s gold may be produced in supernovas, “if we look all the gold produced, coming from this rate of occurrence, we believe we can account for all the gold in the universe.”