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How Does the Universe Form Gold?

Written by Luke Burgess
Posted October 5, 2020

Nations have gone to war over it.

Men have died in pursuit of it.

Brothers have stabbed each other in the back for it.

Gold has been the most coveted metal on the planet since the dawn of time. Yet despite all of our wicked desire for the yellow metal, there's one fundamental question we still can't answer about gold: Where did it come from?

For decades, astronomers believed gold was formed in the crushing pressures of supernovas — that's when a massive star (at least five times bigger than our sun) collapses in on itself before exploding and releasing insane amounts of energy. Supernovas can shine 10 billion times more brightly than our own sun.

However, that theory was disproved about 10 years ago.

LiveScience.com explains, “Regular supernovas can't explain the universe's gold because stars massive enough to fuse gold before they die — which are rare — become black holes when they explode [and] that gold gets sucked into the black hole.”

In other words, any gold produced in the supernova can't escape the resulting black hole. Nothing can. So that theory was out.

Since then, the prevailing theory has been that gold was formed as a result of an event much rarer in the universe: a kilonova.

A kilonova is when two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole collide. Neutron stars and black holes are basically dead stars. So here gold is essentially created when death collides. But a new study shows us there is still much more to the mystery.

In a new study conducted by the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, astrophysicists claim that while past studies were correct in that kilonovae do produce gold, those studies didn't account for the rarity of those collisions.

In other words, there's too much gold in the universe for it to have come only from kilonovae.

So what if there is a secondary source of gold other than kilonovae?

Researchers have considered that too.

A so-called magneto-rotational supernova — a very rare type of supernova that spins very fast — may also produce and spew gold into space. However, Live Science says, “Stars that fuse gold at all are rare. Stars that fuse gold [and] then spew it into space like this are even rarer.”

Chiaki Kobayashi, an astrophysicist and leading author of the new study, said, “There [are] two stages to this question. No. 1 is neutron star mergers are not enough. No. 2 [is] even with the second source, we still can't explain the observed amount of gold.”

So where did all the gold in the universe come from?

¯\_()_/¯

According to the Population Reference Bureau, there have been over 100 billion human beings to walk this Earth. The vast majority of these people were familiar with gold in some way. Yet despite that familiarity... despite how much they've coveted it... despite how many clubs have been swung into the heads of countrymen, neighbors, and family in pursuit of that brilliant, yellow metal... not a single one of those 100 billion people have been able to give a complete and accurate scientific answer to how the universe creates gold or where it comes from.

Pretty nuts, huh?

I'm guessing that one day in the future astrophysicists will be able to answer that question accurately. Though I'm also guessing those answers will lead to many more questions as well.

Until next time,
Luke Burgess Signature
Luke Burgess

As an editor at Energy and Capital, Luke’s analysis and market research reach hundreds of thousands of investors every day. Luke is also a contributing editor of Angel Publishing’s Bull and Bust Report newsletter. There, he helps investors in leveraging the future supply-demand imbalance that he believes could be key to a cyclical upswing in the hard asset markets. For more on Luke, go to his editor’s page.

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