NASA Astrophysics Director, Dr. Paul Hertz joined me this morning to talk about a major discovery announced yesterday (10/16)!
We learned about Kilonovas, the creation of a huge amount of gold, gravitational waves, and a whole lot more!
While observing a galaxy 130 million light-years away, NASA scientists became the first to see a gamma-ray burst caused by two neutron stars smashing into each other. Join some of these brilliant minds from 6:00-11:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Oct. 17, for a bite-sized astrophysics lesson about an exciting discovery: many precious metals on Earth are remnants of these stellar collisions. This particular explosion produced 500 times the mass of Earth in platinum and 200 times the mass of Earth in gold.
Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions in the cosmos. Most occur when a massive star collapses under its own weight as it nears the end of its life. For decades scientists have suspected these bursts might also come from something else: collisions between neutron stars, the smallest and densest stars known to exist — they were right. Black holes merge darkly, but neutron stars do so with a splash. Matter is packed so tightly in neutron stars that a sugar cube-sized amount of material would weigh as much as Mount Everest. So, as it turns out, a neutron star merger can fuel the creation of precious metals and scatter them across the universe — precisely how gold, platinum and dozens of other elements arrived at Earth.
We now know that a neutron star merger is powerful enough to cause ripples in space-time, just as a rock thrown into a pond creates ripples in the water. The discovery of these gravitational waves earned three physicists a 2017 Nobel Prize. This neutron star collision marks the first time scientists have been able to pinpoint exactly where gravitational waves originated.
This discovery brings remarkable new insights into the physics behind the most powerful explosions in the universe — and a reminder that we’re surrounded by the stuff of stars.