Precious metals could have been born in black holes

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Sep 10, 2017

Gold, silver, platinum, uranium—we know these metals are found in Earth’s darkest depths, but they could have emerged from somewhere even weirder.

But first, we need to talk about black holes.

Almost since the Big Bang, astrophysicists have been arguing about whether black holes were spawned in a blink after the Big Bang or millions of years later, from the first astral corpses. UCLA Professor of Physics Alexander Kusenko and graduate student Eric Costner are trying to demystify these ultradense points of no return in space by theorizing that they first came into being not even a second after the epic explosion. That’s long before any stars were shining, let alone dying. These primordial black holes, which are thought to contain all or most of the dark matter that exists (if it exists), may be the source of most of the heavier elements in the universe.

As they say in a study recently published in Physical Review Letters, Kusenko and Costner believe that right after the big bang, the universe was taken over by an enormous uniform field of energy that would have clumped in places as everything expanded at warp speed, and these clumps crashed and merged from the forces of gravity. The scientists are convinced that a minority of these clumps which were dense enough were destined to become black holes. No stars even had to die. Primordial black holes can be observed by measuring infinitesimal changes in a star’s brightness from the black hole’s gravitational effects as it passes like a ghost.

Now back to the metals we normally associate with designer jewelry and radioactive power plants. Primordial black holes may shed light on the formation of these elements, whose origin has remained a mystery to science.

How a primordial black hole parasitically eats a neutron star from the inside. 

UCLA postdoctoral researcher Volodymyr Takhistov, along with UC San Diego professor George Fuller, conducted another study, also published in Physical Review Letters, that suggests primordial black holes are vital to the ongoing formation of the gold in your earrings or the silver in your watch. They further propose that sometimes primordial black holes and neutron stars left over from supernovae collide, with the black hole shooting to the core of the neutron star. As if neutron stars don’t spin fast enough already, it devours the neutron star from the inside and causes it to spin unbelievably fast and fling neutron-loaded material into space as it is eaten away. Those nuclear globs could be where what would go into your watch and earrings started out.

“Scientists know that these heavy elements exist, but they’re not sure where these elements are being formed,” Kusenko said. “This has been really embarrassing.” Later this year, he and his colleagues will run computer simulations of these cosmic crashes, then compare them to observations of heavy elements floating around in other galaxies to determine whether heavier elements really are birthed from black holes.

Neutron star collisions with black holes rarely happen, which explains why significant amounts of these elements are only present in some galaxies. It could also explain the lack of neutron stars in our own galaxy. Primordial black holes ate them all.

(via SciTech Daily)