Astronomers have detected the violent collision of two neutron stars about 4.6 billion years ago. The event could have birthed plutonium on Earth.
In 2017, observatories around the world observed a high-energy collision between a pair of dense objects. They were each slightly more massive than the Sun but only the size of a city. The merger happened 130 million light-years away from Earth, in the constellation of Hydra.
The event confirmed the long-held theory that kilonovas produce heavy elements in the universe, including gold and silver.
Astrophysicist Imre Bartos of the University of Florida and Szabolcs Márka from Columbia University have identified a similar collision. It took place back when the solar system was nothing but a gas cloud.
The cosmic event has led to the formation of some of the most valuable matter on Earth. Therefore, giving birth to 0.3 percent of the Earth’s heaviest elements, including gold, platinum, and uranium, according to a new paper appearing in the May 2 issue of Nature.
“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 said. “A wedding ring, which expresses a deep human connection, is also a connection to our cosmic past predating humanity and the formation of Earth itself, with about 10 milligrams of it likely having formed 4.6 billion years ago.”
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The researchers estimate that the cosmic collision happened about 100 million years before the formation of Earth. It occurred around 1000 light years away.
“If a comparable event happened today at a similar distance from the Solar System, the ensuing radiation could outshine the entire night sky,” Marka said.
Their calculations suggest this one event produced 70% of curium-247 and 40% of plutonium-244.
The researchers say that their study provides insight into understanding the origin and composition of our solar system.
“It sheds bright light on the processes involved in the origin and composition of our solar system, and will initiate a new type of quests within disciplines, such as chemistry, biology, and geology, to solve the cosmic puzzle,” Bartos said.
Bartos now wants to look at other radioactive elements to better understand when and where the neutron star collision occurred.