Scientists announced Wednesday that gold may come from dead star collisions — that's taking it a bit farther than the proverbial end of a rainbow. Nearly four billion light-years farther, to be precise.
The new research may help explain the origins of the precious metal, something that has been baffling scientists. The old theory that it was produced by supernova explosions had been unable to account for the amount of gold in the solar system, according to the Associated Press.
So when the Harvard team detected something golden in the glow that lingered over a short gamma-ray burst, or flash of light triggered by a spatial explosion, they pursued it.
"We estimate that the amount of gold produced and ejected during the merger of the two neutron stars [dead star-cores left over from former explosions] may be as large as 10 moon masses — quite a lot of bling!" the study's lead author, Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement on Wednesday.
NASA's Earth-orbiting Swift spacecraft alerted Berger's team to the gamma ray burst back in June, according to SPACE. It was positioned some 3.9 billion light-years from Earth and occurred in less than two-tenths of a second. That's some pretty quick gamma-ray gold-panning!
Gold is valuable on Earth because of its scarcity in space, but researchers seem to have seen something familiar in this gamma-ray's glow. Its "brightness and behavior didn't match a typical 'afterglow,'" instead behaving "like it came from exotic radioactive elements," they explained in a Harvard press release.
Their work has been put forward for publication, but more research on the gamma ray-gold connection is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
Still, if Berger's team is correct, then people with gold jewelry "walk around with a little tiny piece of the universe," Berger said at a Wednesday press conference, reported the AP.
"To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are all star stuff, and our jewelry is colliding-star stuff," he concluded in the press release on the discovery.
Want to learn more? Watch a SPACE video on neuron star collisions here: