One may have heard the famous quote by Carl Sagan, “We are starstuff?”
This statement refers to the idea that all of the elements that make up our bodies apart from hydrogen and helium are produced either in stars or as a result of stars. There is a new twist on this story thanks to one very recent discovery.
Just last week it was announced that we have made the first detection of the head-on collision of two neutron stars. The detection was made in the form gravity waves as well as by high energy gamma rays, X-rays, optical, infrared and radio light.
This blog is about the neutron stars. Neutron stars are not stars at all, but rather are the ultra-dense remains of massive stars which have already exploded most of their material away in a supernova that took place earlier in its storied history.
Neutron stars are made of neutrons, have a mass typically larger than that of the sun, and a size roughly equal to that of San Francisco. Its density is higher than any other substance in the universe. One teaspoonful would weigh about 10 billion tons (yes, I double-checked that number).
Now then, this story is not about the amazing trivia surrounding individual neutron stars. Rather, it is about what happens when these exotic objects collide. As a result of this first observational confirmation of a neutron star coalescence, new information has surfaced regarding the production of heavy elements.
Based on preliminary findings, it seems that the rapid capture of neutrons is possible in fairly large numbers during the ensuing explosion of two neutron stars.
In fact, it now appears to be the case that the bulk of many of the elements so valued on Earth such as gold are produced in this remarkable fashion.