New research suggests binary neutron stars are a likely source of gold, platinum and other heavy elements. The results of the work are published by the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Most of the elements lighter than iron are “forged” in the cores of stars as a result of thermonuclear fusion. But until recently, scientists had no idea how and where elements heavier than iron came from. Indeed, for their formation, more complex conditions are needed, high temperature and pressure are not enough.

When stars undergo nuclear fusion, they require energy to fuse protons to form heavier elements. Stars efficiently produce lighter elements, from hydrogen to iron. However, the synthesis of more than 26 protons in iron becomes energetically inefficient.

A new study by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of New Hampshire has shown that it is the merging of neutron holes that is responsible for the appearance of gold and platinum. It turned out that over the past 2.5 billion years, more heavy metals have appeared in the merger of neutron stars than in their collisions with black holes.

This is the first study to compare the two types of mergers in terms of heavy metal yield. The authors of the work have already called neutron stars the “gold mine” of heavy elements.