Two neutron stars collided near the solar system billions of years ago

Two neutron stars collided near the solar system billions of years ago
If a comparable event happened today at a similar distance from the solar system, the ensuing radiation would outshine the entire night sky. Credit: Szabolcs Marka

Astrophysicists Szabolcs Marka at Columbia University and Imre Bartos at the University of Florida, have identified a violent collision of two neutron stars 4.6 billion years ago as the likely source of some of the most coveted matter on Earth.

This single cosmic event, close to our solar system, gave birth to 0.3 percent of the Earth's heaviest elements, including gold, platinum and uranium, according to a new paper appearing in the May 2 issue of Nature.

"This means that in each of us we would find an eyelash worth of these elements, mostly in the form of iodine, which is essential to life," Bartos said. "A wedding ring, which expresses a deep human connection, is also a connection to our cosmic past predating humanity and the formation of Earth itself, with about 10 milligrams of it likely having formed 4.6 billion years ago."

"Meteorites forged in the carry the traces of radioactive isotopes," said Bartos, who received his Ph.D. at Columbia.

"As these isotopes decay they act as clocks that can be used to reconstruct the time they were created," Marka said.

To arrive at their conclusion, Bartos and Marka compared the composition of meteorites to numerical simulations of the Milky Way. They found that a single neutron-star collision could have occurred about 100 million years before the formation of Earth, in our own neighborhood, about 1000 light years from the gas cloud that eventually formed the Solar System.

The Milky Way galaxy itself is 100,000 in diameter, or 100 times the distance of this cosmic event from the cradle of Earth. "If a comparable event happened today at a similar distance from the Solar System, the ensuing radiation could outshine the entire night sky," Marka said.

The researchers believe that their study provides insight into a uniquely consequential event in our history. "It sheds on the processes involved in the origin and composition of our , and will initiate a new type of quest within disciplines, such as chemistry, biology and geology, to solve the cosmic puzzle," Bartos said.

"Our results address a fundamental quest of humanity: Where did we come from and where are we going? It is very difficult to describe the tremendous emotions we felt when realized what we had found and what it means for the future as we search for an explanation of our place in the universe, " Marka said.


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More information: Imre Bartos et al, A nearby neutron-star merger explains the actinide abundances in the early Solar System, Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1113-7
Journal information: Nature

Citation: Two neutron stars collided near the solar system billions of years ago (2019, May 2) retrieved 23 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-05-neutron-stars-collided-solar-billions.html
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May 02, 2019
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

May 02, 2019
I agree this is going back in time looking at what happened prior to our planets existence, wonderful work !

May 02, 2019
I haven't got around to read the (pay-walled) work, but according to the abstract the elements they test for are "much of the curium and a substantial fraction of the plutonium present in the early Solar System." Those small percentages mentioned here could be estimates based on the actual detections, they sound difficult to observe.

May 02, 2019
Us that why we age? Do to the radioactive elements in us?

May 02, 2019
Numbers are of the essence where stars are concerned

The dates and chances of two stars colliding is mere speculation these two stars
could be these proposed as yet theoretical neutrons stars
The chance of two binary sun G-type main-sequence stars colliding is billions of types greater than two neutron stars
The number of G-type main-sequence stars is infinitely greater than a theoretical neutron star

May 02, 2019
"They found that a single neutron-star collision could have occurred about 100 million years before the formation of Earth, in our own neighborhood, about 1000 light years from the gas cloud that eventually formed the Solar System."
- In The Beginning - This is classic "Science of Creation" that was recorded in Genesis and in the composition of our Solar System. There will be more evidence of it forthcoming in future scientific research. The NS collision was meant to happen by Divine Will for life to happen on Earth.

"The Milky Way galaxy itself is 100,000 light years in diameter, or 100 times the distance of this cosmic event from the cradle of Earth. "If a comparable event happened today at a similar distance from the Solar System, the ensuing radiation could outshine the entire night sky," Marka said."

- the ensuing radiation would possibly be unhealthy for the EXISTING life forms in our Solar System, depending on the energy of the Neutron collision.

May 02, 2019
Us that why we age? Do to the radioactive elements in us?
says Anon

Why? Do you want to live forever? Don't go outdoors bare-skinned in the sunshine if you don't want your skin to wrinkle, and a liberal use of skin-friendly oils/creams should help keep you looking 10 years younger. Wear a wide-brimmed hat if you like.
Human vanity is quite amusing.

May 02, 2019
These trace heavy elements came from these Supernovas

These elements were already formed before these Pulsar Stars
these neutron stars are proposed to come from Pulsar Stars
are a theoretical construct stepping stone to this theoretical blackhole
so
what is all this got anything to do with neutron stars
and
if GW170817 is anything to go by
whatever cataclysmic event occurred
it lit its host galaxy aglow
if this explosive event occurred near our Baby Starlet Sun
this explosive event would have destroyed our Starlets Nursery
destroyed our Starlet
destroyed our fledgling solar system
destroyed
our
very
beginning of existence
in this inky blackness of this vacuum
We would have never existed to be born to tell this tale of fantasy

May 02, 2019
Grease this palm with your silver to learneth these riches

As to why is everyone saying
these details of this research are paywalled
as
there are already discrepancies appearing in these scant details so provided
just think
of these discrepancies that exist behind this paywall
for those who have the where with all to grease this palm with silver
no one else is going to replicate this theoretical construct
as
those who know their stuff
already know what is behind this paywall
they
can grease their own palm with their own silver
and
Spend it wisely on a Jar in the Pub

May 02, 2019
Us that why we age? Do to the radioactive elements in us?
says Anon

Why? Do you want to live forever? Don't go outdoors bare-skinned in the sunshine if you don't want your skin to wrinkle, and a liberal use of skin-friendly oils/creams should help keep you looking 10 years younger. Wear a wide-brimmed hat if you like.
Human vanity is quite amusing.

No. That's not it. I was wondering how to slow down the aging process to people that had lifelong conflicts like autusm could see what life is like without it. That's all.

May 02, 2019
4.6 billion years ago would be around the time the Sun coalesced from the solar nebula. I wonder if radiation pressure (or gravitational waves) from the event precipitated the nebula's contraction and our solar systems formation.

May 02, 2019
Us that why we age? Do to the radioactive elements in us?
says Anon

Why? Do you want to live forever? Don't go outdoors bare-skinned in the sunshine if you don't want your skin to wrinkle, and a liberal use of skin-friendly oils/creams should help keep you looking 10 years younger. Wear a wide-brimmed hat if you like.
Human vanity is quite amusing.

No. That's not it. I was wondering how to slow down the aging process to people that had lifelong conflicts like autusm could see what life is like without it. That's all.
says Anon

I seem to have misunderstood your meaning. My apologies to you.
Science is coming up with medical advancements to prevent or alleviate Autism. In the US, there seems to be a lot of babies who are born with Autism. I'm not a physician so I can't say what causes it or how to prevent it from happening. Many autistic children are able to function well enough to be happy individuals in spite of their affliction. Check with your doctor and good luck.

May 02, 2019
I wonder how close such a merger would have to be to seriously affect the planet. Since the neutron flux would be highest only for a very short time, it is unlikely to affect the other side of the planet, so its not an extinction level event, except perhaps to the poor critters on the merger side.

The atmosphere would not protect against this sort of radiation.

May 02, 2019
I'd have to read the paper to be sure, but it seems like a neutron pulse would the the least of our worries. Seems like X-rays and gamma rays would be the biggest part of the radiation, and there might also be a heat pulse from the lower energy light as well. This might last for days. I suspect the area of effect would be a few thousand light years. AFAIK there aren't any neutron star pairs that close to us. We'd be able to see them.

I wonder if anyone has surveyed neutron star and black hole doubles with large stars over the applicable distances. Cygnus X-1 is about 6,000 light years away.

May 02, 2019
@torbjorn, notably the supernova hypothesis for the creation of heavy metals seems to fall far short of the observed abundances both in the early and current Solar System makeups. It looks like neutron star mergers make most heavy elements. It's not conclusive, but it's highly indicative.

I didn't get the full paper, but that's what it says in the abstract.

May 02, 2019
@Da Schneib

Can you rule out a "multiple supernova" hypothesis for the heavy metals? The solar nebula we formed from could have been seeded for billions of years with lots of Type II SN elements prior to condensation. There must have been many of these SNs over vast periods of time within our galaxy.

And would there be a ratio difference in elements created from neutron mergers vs. SN? I am guessing very much so. And could relative contributions from each source be sorted out?

May 02, 2019
These are the daughter elements of radionuclides. It's a matter of isotopes created and detected. Yes, they can be sorted out.

May 02, 2019
Is there a projected atomic number range of elements produced in NS mergers? I suspect they are mostly heavies.

May 02, 2019
r-process is statistical.

May 02, 2019
Numbers are of the essence where stars are concerned
The chance of two binary sun G-type main-sequence stars colliding is billions of types greater than two neutron stars
The number of G-type main-sequence stars is infinitely greater than a theoretical neutron star
Where do you get your numbers from?

May 03, 2019
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May 03, 2019
He also told you that he what?! I really, really want to know. I'm so over my reoccurring herpes, seriously.

May 03, 2019
Us that why we age? Do to the radioactive elements in us?


Evolutionary competition forces generational change - individual death - sooner or later. Aging is the most common cause for death in long lived species. But aging mechanisms are an open area - organisms thwart them during development or they would not procreate - so we can mostly only point to what does not kill us*. Radioactivity is among those factors that kills few.

*) A recent observation is that DNA replication machinery puts a difference between short lived - sloppy machinery - and long lived like us - machinery selected for minimum errors.

May 03, 2019
4.6 billion years ago would be around the time the Sun coalesced from the solar nebula. I wonder if radiation pressure (or gravitational waves) from the event precipitated the nebula's contraction and our solar systems formation.


Fair enough, and gravitational wave amplitude weaken with 1/r instead of 1/r^2 EM deposition energy. But still, LIGO sees waves that move matter the width of a proton (which is why they need km long interferometers for detection).

Supernova explosions, or ageing large stars, are the phenomena observed to move and compress gas in molecular clouds. In our case, one (of possibly two near concurrent) supernovas are tied to the system birth (so the nebula local contraction).

May 03, 2019
@torbjorn, notably the supernova hypothesis for the creation of heavy metals seems to fall far short of the observed abundances both in the early and current Solar System makeups. It looks like neutron star mergers make most heavy elements. It's not conclusive, but it's highly indicative.

I didn't get the full paper, but that's what it says in the abstract.


I agree on actinides (as in the abstract); the article is a bit sloppy with what they call "heavy elements".

May 04, 2019
@torbjorn, notably the supernova hypothesis for the creation of heavy metals seems to fall far short of the observed abundances both in the early and current Solar System makeups. It looks like neutron star mergers make most heavy elements. It's not conclusive, but it's highly indicative.
I agree on actinides (as in the abstract); the article is a bit sloppy with what they call "heavy elements".
If neutron-star collisions are largely responsible for the actinides, that bodes well for exo-civilizations, in the majority, not having the wherewithal to blow themselves (cyclically) back into their stone-ages. However, nuclear power won't be part of their energy mix either. Then again, it might mean a significant reduction in the irreplaceable rare-earth elements; they have properties the second half of our 20th century could not do without.

May 06, 2019
Make no mistake, God made it happen. Praise the Lord

May 06, 2019
Since the solar system is less than 10,000 years old...the probability of
this happening is Zero!

May 15, 2019
They are hypothesizing the existence of a neutron star collision close-by, because it might account for the deviation between observations and some mathematical model of the Milky Way. Ok, maybe. But, where is the remnant of ejecta or the resulting neutron star? Did they look and not find it?

How about revising the galactic model to fit the observations? Or, have we abandoned empiricism in favor of epicycles wherever it might impinge on the Big Bang theory?

May 16, 2019
They are hypothesizing the existence of a neutron star collision close-by, because it might account for the deviation between observations and some mathematical model of the Milky Way. Ok, maybe. But, where is the remnant of ejecta or the resulting neutron star? Did they look and not find it?

How about revising the galactic model to fit the observations? Or, have we abandoned empiricism in favor of epicycles wherever it might impinge on the Big Bang theory?
Lol, another trick is to interpret the observations to suit einstein's GR

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