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Imploding neutron stars might explain the existence of gold in our universe

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The origin of heavy elements in our universe has perplexed scientist for some time. Elements such as gold, platinum and uranium require unique gravitational events to occur to allow for their formations. Scientists at the the Max Plank Institute for Astrophysics have posited a theory that may explain heavy elements.

A paper published in the APS Physics Journal has proposed that heavy elements might be caused by the ageing of old neutron stars and their eventual demise. Fuller et al identified that rapidly spinning neutrons stars may begin to devour themselves from the inside out, as primordial black holes (PBHs) collide with them (APS Physics, 2017).

Primordial black holes are thought to explain some dark matter within our universe and they are also surmised to be remnants of the big bag. These miniature black holes have the mass of an asteroid crushed into the size of an atom. It is hypothesised that if a neutron star collides with a miniature black hole, or PBH, it starts to devour the star internally. As a consequence of this process, it is believed that dense nuclear matter is ripped off, allowing for a process to occur that creates heavy elements.

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This process is called the r (rapid) process and it allows for the forces necessary to convert neutron rich nuclei into protons, permitting higher atomic numbers to exist, within our universe. It is thought this rapid process would occur during the very final stages of a neutron star’s destruction due to primordial black holes.

Observations of a a red dwarf galaxy known as Reticulum II have revealed that it contains a high percentage of r process nuclei, which may have been formed by the devouring of neutron stars by PBHs. It is also thought that extragalactic fast radio bursts may be caused by this hypothetical Astrophysical phenomenon.

Although it is not clear if miniature black holes and fast spinning neutron stars might be responsible for the formation of heavy elements such as gold, platinum and uranium, it is a plausible postulation. However, further studies of gravitational waves would be required to clarify such a hypothesis. Telescopes such as LIGO, VIRGO and KARGA could be utilised to analyse the gravitational waves from these events, with a view to unravelling the mysterious existence of gold and other heavy elements.

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