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How gold was discovered in space with the James Webb Space Telescope

How gold was discovered in space with the James Webb Space Telescope

Artist's impression of a kilonova: the merger of two neutron stars (DANA BERRY SKYWORKS DIGITAL)

Although not everything that glitters is gold, the James Webb Space Telescope was able to determine the presence of this substance in the bowels of the universe.

“This is the first time we have been able to verify that metals heavier than iron and silver were recently synthesized before us, such as gold,” explained astrophysicist Eleonora Truja, from the University of Rome, who was part of a scientific study. .to prove.

Troja and the scientists who accompanied her on the investigation analyzed an unusually long burst of high-energy radiation, known as a gamma ray burst (GRB), and determined that it originated from the collision of two ultra-dense neutron stars. More importantly, this result helped the team observe a flash of light emanating from the same event, confirming that these mergers are the sites that create elements like gold.

The observations, made with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Hubble Space Telescope, have allowed scientists to see gold and heavy elements in formation, which may help us better understand how powerful neutron star merger events generate the only turbulent environments in the universe. It is enough to create elements heavier than iron, such as silver and gold, resulting in a flash of light called a kilonova.

“It was exciting to study kilonovas as we have never seen them before using the powerful eyes of Hubble and the JWST,” Troja said, noting that GRBs are the most powerful energy explosions in the known universe and have previously been associated with star mergers. Neutrons. But experts say this discovery is completely different.

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Scientists have determined that these phenomena can be divided into two groups. On the one hand, there are long gamma-ray bursts that last more than two seconds, and on the other hand, there are short gamma-ray bursts that last less than two seconds. While neutron star mergers have been associated with short gamma-ray bursts, long gamma-ray bursts are thought to occur as a result of the collapse of massive stars rather than such collisions.

Cosmic gold mine

Stars are like stellar furnaces that make up the elements of the periodic table, starting with the nuclear fusion of hydrogen with helium in their cores, and continuing with the fusion of helium with heavier elements such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon.

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