NASA's James Webb telescope spotted two stars crashing into each other so violently it could have created gold in space
- The James Webb Space Telescope picked up the blast from two neutron stars colliding.
- The blast, called a kilonova, created the perfect conditions to make space gold and platinum.
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has detected two neutron stars crashing into each other so violently, it could have created gold in space.
The rare cosmic explosion is known as a kilonova and is so powerful it can create gold, platinum, and uranium in the universe.
If confirmed, the findings would be the first time JWST has detected an explosion of this type.
The death of two neutron stars
A kilonova happens when two neutron stars — collapsed supermassive stars — gravitate around one another and eventually crash. An artist's illustration of the event is shown above.
The impact lets off a powerful blast called a gamma-ray burst, followed by a wave of ultraviolet, infrared, and X-ray energy.
The energy let off by the blast can be detected by remote sensors on Earth and in space. This particular blast, called GRB 230307A, was first detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope on March 7, 2023, per Space.com.
But for the first time, scientists think they have also managed to spot the signature of the blast using JWST's infrared capabilities, allowing them to trace the signal back to the source of the gamma-ray burst.
They also spotted evidence of heavy elements being released by the blast, suggesting it was a kilonova.
The findings were published on the pre-print server arXiv on July 5.
Gold forged from stars
Virtually every element was created in a star. That's because the Big Bang only created helium, hydrogen, and lithium. More complex elements like carbon and oxygen had to be forged by the million-degree fusion reactions created by stars (so human bodies are made of star stuff).
But heavy elements like gold and uranium require extreme and violent conditions to be created. These only arise in very limited circumstances, like when two neutron stars collide.
In this particular case, the scientists detected traces of the heavy element tellurium and the creation of lanthanides, per Space.com.
JWST continues to impress
JWST has been sending images from space for almost a year. If confirmed, this would add one more achievement to the space telescope's ground-breaking observations.
Lead author Andrew Levan of Radboud University in the Netherlands told Insider the findings are being reviewed by peers, meaning the interpretation of the study could still change.
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