Heavy metals like gold and platinum have nothing in common with Earth. New research suggests a supernova explosion brought precious metals on Earth.

So, the latest research by a University of Guelph (UG) physicist suggests a star explosion far from Earth has brought all the heavy metals like gold on Earth.

About 80 percent of the heavy elements probably formed in Collapsars, a rare form of a supernova explosion. These blasts come from the gravitational collapse of old, massive stars. In order for a star to go supernova, it has to be 30 times more massive than our Sun.

“Eighty percent of these heavy elements we see should come from collapsars. Collapsars are fairly rare in occurrences of supernovae, even more, rare than neutron star mergers. But the amount of material that they eject into space is much higher than that from neutron star mergers,” explained Daniel Siegel, professor of physics at UG.

The finding overturns the idea that these elements came from the collision of neutron stars.

The research appears today in the journal Nature.

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The researchers used supercomputers to simulate the dynamics of collapsars.

Their simulation shows massive, rapidly spinning collapsars ejecting heavy elements whose amounts and distribution are “astonishingly similar to what we observe in our solar system,” said Siegel.

Ironically, said Siegel, his team began working to understand the physics of that merger before their simulations pointed toward collapsars as a heavy element birth chamber. “Our research on neutron star mergers has led us to believe that the birth of black holes in a very different type of stellar explosion might produce even more gold than neutron star mergers.”

Collapsars tend to implode, turning into black holes.

What collapsars lack in frequency, they make up for in generation of heavy elements, said Siegel. Collapsars also produce intense flashes of gamma rays.

The science team headed by Daniel Siegel is now hoping that further surveys should their theoretical model. Siegel said infrared instruments such as those on the James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch in 2021, should be able to detect telltale radiation pointing to heavy elements from a collapsar in a far-distant galaxy.

“That would be a clear signature,” he said.

“Trying to nail down where heavy elements come from may help us understand how the galaxy was chemically assembled and how the galaxy formed,” he added. “This may actually help solve some big questions in cosmology as heavy elements are a nice tracer.”

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