Scientists want to know how Earth got its gold

No one knows where heavy metals like gold got their start, but scientists say there are two potential sources, neither of which are located on Earth. (Credit: Tallis Photography/Flickr)

Scientists are using computer models to answer what many believe is one of science’s most puzzling questions: How did heavy metals like gold get to Earth?

There are two candidates, neither of which are located on Earth—a supernova, a massive star that, in its old age, collapsed and then catastrophically exploded under its own weight—or a neutron-star merger, in which two of these small yet incredibly massive stars come together and spew out huge amounts of stellar debris.

In a recently published paper in the journal Physical Review Letters, researchers detail how they are getting close to an answer.

[Did stinky conditions create tons of gold?]

At this time, no one knows the answer,” says Witold Nazarewicz, professor of physics at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University. “But this work will help guide future experiments and theoretical developments.”

By using existing data, often obtained by means of high-performance computing, the researchers were able to simulate production of heavy elements in both supernovae and neutron-star mergers.

“Our work shows regions of elements where the models provide a good prediction. What we can do is identify the critical areas where future experiments, which will be conducted at FRIB, will work to reduce uncertainties of nuclear models.”

Other researchers from Michigan State and from the Technical University Darmstadt are coauthors of the study.

Source: Michigan State University