Belfast Telegraph

QUB scientists strike gold as they prove the precious metal is forged in the depths of space

By Kate Buck

Did you know the wedding band was most likely made from neutron stars colliding?

The age-old debate of where gold comes from has finally been answered thanks to ground-breaking research by a Queen's University astronomer and his team that that has proven that two neutron stars collided - producing as much gold as the mass of the Earth.

Professor Stephen Smartt, director of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's, was leading a five-day observation of supernovae through the New Technology Telescope at La Silla, Chile, when they detected gravitational waves 130 million light years away. These waves were created by two neutron stars colliding, the first of its kind recorded in history.

Professor Smartt said: "This is a new way of doing astronomy. We had only just begun to detect gravitational waves and now we have used telescopes to detect light from the object that caused them: a merger of neutron stars, which had been predicted but never seen before." This was just the fifth time these waves had been detected, and the previous four times had been the result of two black holes colliding, giving off readings lasting just a few seconds.

But this time scientists detected a reading lasting 100 seconds, and then a blast of gamma radiation as a result of two neutron stars colliding. Neutron stars are so dense that one teaspoon of their material on Earth would weigh a billion tonnes.

"These new results have significantly contributed to solving the long-debated mystery of the origin of elements heavier than iron in the periodic table," added Dr Kate Maguire of Queen's.

Belfast Telegraph

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