BALTIMORE (WJZ) — They are the most violent explosions in the universe. And now the collision of two neutron stars this past summer is unlocking new secrets.
The stars, which are about 130 million light years away, circled each other for billions of years.
“And what we saw in August when those two neutron stars finally merged and collided in a huge release of energy,” says Dr. Julie McEnery, of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “So imagine the sun shining for millions of years and all of that energy being released in a matter of a couple of seconds.”
That energy created ripples in space time called gravity waves. It took 130 million years for those waves to reach Earth on August 17.
They first registered on immense detectors two miles long, and within seconds, orbiting telescopes picked up the bright flash of a gamma ray burst: the visible signature of a neutron star collision.
Within hours, observatories around the world began studying nature’s largest explosion, create by its tiniest suns.
Neutron stars are small, one would fit inside the Beltway, which makes them incredibly dense.
“A spoonful of material from a neutron star would weigh as much as Mount Everest,” says Dr. McEnery.
Scientists are NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center joined thousands of others, studying the remains of the explosion.
What they discovered was the heavy elements it released, especially gold and platinum.
Enough gold to create 200 solid gold Earths.
And billions of years ago, “an explosion just like this one would have happened, that gave rise to the gold and platinum that we have here on Earth,” Dr. McEnery says. As the remains of neutron star explosions condensed into new suns and planets.
Besides being the source for all of the universe’s gold and platinum, scientists say neutron star collisions are also the source of uranium.