On June 3rd, NASA’s SWIFT X-ray telescope detected a massive gamma-ray burst, GRB 130603B.
The burst was caused by the collision of two neutron stars 3.9 billion light years from Earth, and lasted only two-tenths of a second. However the infrared glow left behind by the event suggested the formation of a large amount of heavy metals.
It is thought that most of the heavier elements in the universe were produced during supernova explosions. However, gamma-ray bursts are so energetic, they can produce metals such as gold.
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has been studying GRB 130603B and believes that it may be evidence that most of the gold in the universe was produced by the collision of neutron stars. Their study is available online.
(Pictured is a visible-light image of neutron star RX J1856.5-3754, the closest neutron star to earth at a distance of 400 light years. It has a radius of 14 km and a surface temperature of 434,000 degrees Celsius.)