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Something is filling the universe with gold … but nobody knows what makes it possible

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Kuldeep Singh
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Just a few years ago, NASA released one of the most shocking news of recent times: they had just found the largest gold deposit ever known and, indeed, it was in space. It was ‘16 Pysche‘, an asteroid that is located between Mars and Saturn and that is composed mainly of gold, in addition to other heavy materials such as iron or nickel. Making an estimate, NASA considers the value of this rock to be 10,000 quadrillion dollars. But its nature remains a mystery.

For some years now, experts have been busy trying to calculate how much gold humans have access to and how much would be left to extract from the bowels of the Earth. Today, this material is basic, because, in addition to being an important symbol of wealth, it is essential in the technology industry. But everyone knows that, like any other mineral, it is a finite element and therefore has an expiration date. However, experts continue to ask themselves the big question: how does gold come into being? And even more important: what is it that causes it to be found in large quantities in space?

For several years, experts have been working hard to carry out all kinds of studies to try to discover where the gold comes from. It is known to be composed of 79 protons and 118 neutrons that end up forming a single atomic nucleus, all thanks to an intense nuclear fusion reaction. For many centuries, the most famous alchemists investigated the formula for making gold, but no one has found it. However, the answer must lie in space: gold is an element present throughout the universe, but we have not yet been able to know why.

To try to explain its nature, Chiaki Kobayashi, an astrophysicist at the University of Hertfordshire, in the United Kingdom, has carried out a new very detailed study published in The Astrophysical Journal, in which reference is made to 341 other publications on the topic. Taking advantage of this scientific basis and trying to find a solution, this expert has reached a conclusion: the main source of gold creation that humans have been able to find is not able to explain the huge amount of this precious material that exists in our universe.

Kobayashi believes in his new study, as explained in LiveScience, that the theory most widely supported by the scientific community about the origin of gold is true. Or, put another way, collisions between neutron stars have confirmed the making of gold. However, there is a fundamental problem: These types of reactions are so rare that it is unlikely that it is the main explanation for the existence of gold. For this reason, the scientist has set out to look for other possible complementary explanations that help to understand the presence of gold in space.

Collisions that take place between neutron stars give rise to the emergence of gold after breaking the protons and neutrons that are together in atomic nuclei, to send them back into space in a new union. Another space event that could be similar is regular supernovae, but the study also rules it out: stars that are massive enough to fuse gold before dying, apart from being really strange, turn into black holes at the time they explode, without the presence of gold in their action. This would rule it out completely.

Another of the shuffled actions is related to magneto-rotational supernovae, which are similar to the first but with a very fast spin. In this case, the dying star begins to rotate very fast, shaken by very strong magnetic fields that cause it to rotate on itself until it explodes and sends jets of matter into space. When this situation occurs, they do fuse gold from its nucleus and send it into space, but the same thing happens as in the case of neutron stars: they are so strange that they alone would not explain the huge amount of gold in space either.

For Kobayashi, there are only two possible answers to explain the presence of so much gold in space: first, and much more possible, that there is some process that is currently unknown to scientists and has not yet been observed; second, both neutron star collisions and magneto-rotational supernova explosions actually eject much greater amounts of gold than existing prediction models would actually be showing us.

Despite not having been able to reach an exact conclusion explaining which process is responsible for the generation of the most valuable precious material on Earth, the study has managed to offer other explanations: if they could conclude how atoms as light as carbon -12 (six protons and 6 neutrons) or uranium -238 (92 protons and 146 neutrons) form. At the moment, it is the most accurate study to try to know where gold comes from but, for now, we still do not know its true nature.

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