Neutron star collision showers the universe with a wealth of discoveries | Science News

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Neutron star collision showers the universe with a wealth of discoveries

Detection of gravitational waves from smashup helps reveal where heavy elements are created

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10:00am, October 16, 2017
illustration of neutron star collision

BRIGHT BURST  After two neutron stars slammed together, scientists detected gravitational waves, a burst of gamma rays and a glow from ejected material, shown in this artist’s conception.

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WASHINGTON — Two ultradense cores of dead stars have produced a long-awaited cosmic collision, showering scientists with riches.

The event was the first direct sighting of a smashup of neutron stars, which are formed when aging stars explode and leave behind a neutron-rich remnant. In the wake of the collision, the churning residue forged gold, silver, platinum and a smattering of other heavy elements such as uranium, researchers reported October 16 at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Such elements’ birthplaces were previously unknown, but their origins were revealed by the cataclysm’s afterglow.

“It really is the last missing piece” of the periodic table, says Anna Frebel, an astronomer at MIT who was not involved in the research. “This is heaven for anyone working in the field.” After the collision, about 10 times the Earth’s mass in gold was spewed out into

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