That's so metal

Look: Colliding zombie stars reveal the cosmic origins of a legendary metal

Out with a bang.

MIT via Giphy

Photography by Mangiwau/Moment/Getty Images

Where does gold come from?

Mines, yes — but there’s an even more primitive origin point for the cherished metal.

Along with other metals, gold forms during powerful explosions in space.

Collisions involving neutron stars and black holes can also fuse heavy metals like uranium and platinum.

Anna Efetova/Moment/Getty Images

NASA via Giphy

Neutron stars are the remains of supernovas.

Supernovas happen when a star reaches the end of its life cycle and collapses, going out with a literal bang.

INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo/Salvatore Orlando

When the star’s collapse is not large enough to form into a black hole, a cold core remains — that’s the newly-formed neutron star.

They’re incredibly dense: a feature that gives neutron stars powerful potential to produce metals in a collision.

NASA via Giphy

Shutterstock

But which type of collision makes the most metal?

A) two neutron stars

or

B) a neutron star + a black hole?

ESA via Giphy

Researchers writing in Astrophysical Journal Letters on October 25 modeled collisions that happened over the past 2.5 billion years to estimate which type of collision has the potential to make the most metals.

Factors like rotational speed, mass, and resistance to disruption influence how likely objects are to collide.

brightstars/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

MIT via Giphy

The researchers estimate that binary neutron stars — pairs that orbit each other — are likely to create between 2 to 100 times more metal than a neutron star and black hole upon merging.

Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al

Because the black holes we’ve observed don’t usually have small masses and high spin rates, it’s harder for a collision to happen, much less create a metal-rich explosion.

But to date, we haven’t observed that many neutron stars colliding with any other objects in the universe — period.

Future observations could put these predictions to the test.

Pinpointing how metals are created in the universe could help us explain why we find certain concentrations of elements in our own Solar System today.

koto_feja/E+/Getty Images