The link between this research and my side project on gold nanoparticles is a bit tenuous but this work on the origins for gold and other precious metals being found in the stars is so fascinating and I’m determined to find a connection.
From a May 19, 2016 news item on phys.org,
The origin of many of the most precious elements on the periodic table, such as gold, silver and platinum, has perplexed scientists for more than six decades. Now a recent study has an answer, evocatively conveyed in the faint starlight from a distant dwarf galaxy.
In a roundtable discussion, published today [May 19, 2016?], The Kavli Foundation spoke to two of the researchers behind the discovery about why the source of these heavy elements, collectively called “r-process” elements, has been so hard to crack.
From the Spring 2016 Kavli Foundation webpage hosting the “Galactic ‘Gold Mine’ Explains the Origin of Nature’s Heaviest Elements” Roundtable ,
RESEARCHERS HAVE SOLVED a 60-year-old mystery regarding the origin of the heaviest elements in nature, conveyed in the faint starlight from a distant dwarf galaxy.
Most of the chemical elements, composing everything from planets to paramecia, are forged by the nuclear furnaces in stars like the Sun. But the cosmic wellspring for a certain set of heavy, often valuable elements like gold, silver, lead and uranium, has long evaded scientists.
Astronomers studying a galaxy called Reticulum II have just discovered that its stars contain whopping amounts of these metals—collectively known as “r-process” elements (See “What is the R-Process?”). Of the 10 dwarf galaxies that have been similarly studied so far, only Reticulum II bears such strong chemical signatures. The finding suggests some unusual event took place billions of years ago that created ample amounts of heavy elements and then strew them throughout the galaxy’s reservoir of gas and dust. This r-process-enriched material then went on to form Reticulum II’s standout stars.
Based on the new study, from a team of researchers at the Kavli Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the unusual event in Reticulum II was likely the collision of two, ultra-dense objects called neutron stars. Scientists have hypothesized for decades that these collisions could serve as a primary source for r-process elements, yet the idea had lacked solid observational evidence. Now armed with this information, scientists can further hope to retrace the histories of galaxies based on the contents of their stars, in effect conducting “stellar archeology.”
The Kavli Foundation recently spoke with three astrophysicists about how this discovery can unlock clues about galactic evolution as well as the abundances of certain elements on Earth we use for everything from jewelry-making to nuclear power generation. The participants were:
- Alexander Ji – is a graduate student in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a member of the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI). He is lead author of a paper in Nature describing this discovery.
- Anna Frebel – is the Silverman Family Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics at MIT and also a member of MKI. Frebel is Ji’s advisor and coauthored the Nature paper. Her work delves into the chemical and physical conditions of the early universe as conveyed by the oldest stars.
- Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz – is a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His research explores violent events in the universe, including the mergers of neutron stars and their role in generating r-process elements.
Here’s a link to and citation for Ji’s and Frebel’s paper about r-process elements in the stars,
R-process enrichment from a single event in an ancient dwarf galaxy by Alexander P. Ji, Anna Frebel, Anirudh Chiti, & Joshua D. Simon. Nature 531, 610–613 (31 March 2016) doi:10.1038/nature17425 Published online 21 March 2016
This paper is behind a paywall but you can read an edited transcript of the roundtable discussion on the Galactic ‘Gold Mine’ Explains the Origin of Nature’s Heaviest Elements webpage (keep scrolling past the introductory text).
As for my side project, Steep (2) on gold nanoparticles, that’s still in the planning stages but if there’s a way to include this information, I’ll do it.