New research sheds light on how gold is forged in cosmic collisions

Precious jewelry, adorned with gold that holds deep cosmic origins, may have originated from a cataclysmic event occurring millions or billions of light years away—a violent collision between two neutron stars. This intriguing process has caught the attention of researchers seeking to unravel its mysteries.

Scientists have identified neutron star mergers as the singular confirmed site in the universe capable of generating the extreme conditions needed to forge many of the heaviest elements, including gold, platinum, and uranium. These mergers, observed as kilonovae, produce incredibly high densities and temperatures, enabling the rapid neutron capture process responsible for such element formation.

In a recent study published in The European Physical Journal D, researchers, led by Andrey Bondarev from Helmholtz Institute Jena and James Gillanders from Rome, investigated the spectra from the kilonova AT2017gfo. Their aim was to study the presence of forged tin in the aftermath of such cosmic collisions. To achieve this, they focused on analyzing spectral features resulting from forbidden transitions of tin.

The team emphasized the significance of accurate atomic data, particularly for magnetic dipole and electric quadrupole transitions, which remain unknown for several elements. By employing advanced computational methods, they calculated energy levels and rates of multipole transitions for singly ionized tin, generating a valuable dataset for future astrophysical analysis.

One notable finding was a magnetic dipole transition between the levels of the ground-state doublet of singly ionized tin, which could be a distinct and observable feature in kilonova emission spectra. While it didn’t match any features in the AT2017gfo spectra, this discovery serves as a potential probe for future kilonova events, contributing to a deeper understanding of these extraordinary cosmic explosions.

Kilonova events, being a relatively recent phenomenon, were first spectroscopically observed in 2017. As we seek to comprehend the explosive collisions associated with neutron star mergers, improved atomic data, like that provided in this study, plays a crucial role.

The researchers expressed their hope that their work will contribute to advancing our knowledge of the process behind the formation of the heaviest elements in the universe. They eagerly await the discovery of new kilonovae and associated observations, as each new finding brings us closer to unraveling the secrets of these awe-inspiring events.

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