Material ejected in gamma-ray bursts may be source of heavy elements
Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital, Inc.
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Dead stars make good alchemists.
Images snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that gold may have been generated by a violent neutron star collision that also yielded lead, platinum, uranium and other heavy elements.
The stellar smashup was detected on June 3, when NASA’s Swift satellite observed a gamma-ray burst 3.9 billion light-years away. Astrophysicists believe that a crash between two neutron stars, the dense, neutron-rich cores left over after massive stars explode, released the 0.2-second flash of energy.
Images snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope nine days later saw evidence for a bounty of heavy elements amounting to about 1 percent of the sun’s mass and including several moon masses of gold, says Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. Given the amount of gold and the fact that these collisions probably happen once every 10,000