• Two neutron stars collided near the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
  • It forged precious elements such as gold, uranium, and platinum in our solar system. 
  • This single cosmic event gave birth to 0.3% of the Earth’s heaviest elements. 
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Astrophysicists from Columbia University and University of Florida have found signs of a cosmic event that forged gold, uranium and platinum and sent them to Earth.

A new study by astrophysicists Szabolcs Márka at Columbia University and Imre Bartos at the University of Florida have identified a violent collision of two neutron stars 4.6 billion years ago as the likely source of some of the most coveted matter on Earth.

This single cosmic event, close to our solar system, gave birth to 0.3% of the Earth’s heaviest elements, including gold, platinum and uranium. It forms part of a growing body of evidence indicating that such mergers are the primary origin of heavy elements.

“This means that in each of us we would find an eyelash worth of these elements, mostly in the form of iodine, which is essential to life,” Bartos told Columbia news.

The astrophysicitsts were able to determine the source of the metals from meteorites forged in the early solar system that carry traces of radioactive isotopes. As these isotopes decay, they act as “clocks” that can be used to reconstruct the time they were created, Márka said.

Bartos and Márka compared the composition of meteorites to numerical simulations of the Milky Way. They found that a single neutron-star collision could have occurred about 100 million years before the formation of Earth. If such an event were to occur today, the radiation would be bright enough to outshine the entire night sky. 

“We further find that there was probably a single nearby merger that produced much of the curium and a substantial fraction of the plutonium present in the early Solar System,” they conclude in their abstract in Nature.

“Our results address a fundamental quest of humanity: Where did we come from and where are we going?” Márka said.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

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