Gold frequently makes global headlines. But not ones like this.
Joshua Sokol of The Atlantic recently discussed the
chemistry and cosmic roots of one of the world’s most prized elements.
The origin of gold in our galaxy is a longtime subject of intrigue
and debate among astrophysicists.
Connect with Coin World:
Sign up for
our free eNewsletter
Follow us on Twitter
“The coda, at least, is relatively clear,” Sokol writes. “About four
billion years ago, during a period called the ‘late veneer,’
meteorites flecked with small amounts of precious metals—gold
included—hammered the nascent Earth. But the more fundamental question
of where gold was forged in the cosmos is still contentious.”
This subject is a complex one, and understanding it is pretty tough
for most to understand. However, the foundations of these theories are
ones that most can grasp.
How to spot a counterfeit 1928 China ‘Auto’
dollar: Inside Coin World:
We at Coin World report often on fake U.S. coin rarities coming
from China, but not so often about fake Chinese coin rarities.
The idea that gold comes from stars certainly has merit.
It was once thought that a supernova, the explosion of a dying star,
had the heat and outward energy to turn iron present in the supernova
into gold and other heavy metals, and to fling the materials, via
those aforementioned meteors, into the galaxy.
But now experts are not so sure.
Today a popular competing theory is that gold is a byproduct, not of
a supernova, but of the collision of two neutron stars, which are
actually what are present after a star becomes a supernova and its
core collapses. The collision of two neutron stars unleashes
incredible amounts of energy.
“In the last few orbits around each other before glomming together
into a bigger neutron star or a black hole, the pair are wracked by
enormous gravitational tides,” Sokol writes. “The collision ejects
enormous amounts of material.”
So what’s the difference between the theories? Well, supernovas
happen more frequently than neutron star collisions, but would produce
and fling less gold.
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, an astrophysicist at the University of
California, Santa Cruz, told The Atlantic to think of the
process as chocolate.
“A universe enriched in the r-process elements [including
gold] predominantly by supernovas would be like a cookie with a thin,
evenly spread glaze of chocolate,” The Atlantic story reads.
"By contrast, ‘neutron star mergers are like chocolate chip
cookies,’ [Ramirez-Ruis] said. ‘All of the chocolate, or
the r process, is concentrated.’ ”
Want to learn more about the two competing theories and the
differences between them?
Read Sokol’s full Atlantic story.