Gold in space! Scientists found an inexhaustible source

Isbel Lázaro.

Oro en el espacio

Inspenet, December 18, 2023.

A recent study has discovered a potential source of gold in space : it is the accretion disks of black holes.

According to research published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society , these disks form as a result of the chaos surrounding a newly formed black hole as it absorbs dust and gas from surrounding space. Within these disks, conditions of high temperature and density are recorded, generating significant emissions of neutrinos, subatomic particles that have minimal interaction with matter.

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Using computer simulations, researchers have analyzed the process of nuclear reactions in these disks and have discovered that, under certain conditions, neutrinos can facilitate the conversion of protons into neutrons, generating a surplus of the latter. This surplus is crucial to trigger the r process, or rapid neutron capture, responsible for the formation of elements heavier than iron.

How is gold formed in space?

The study suggests that the optimal mass for a disk to become a factory for gold and other heavy elements ranges between 0.01 and 0.1 solar masses. If the disk is too light, it lacks enough neutrinos to carry out the conversion from protons to neutrons. If the disk is excessively massive, the neutrinos are recaptured by neutrons before leaving the disk, transforming back into protons.

So far, the amount of data collected is not enough to claim that these disks can become a source of gold, but this discovery represents an advance in the understanding of how heavy elements originate in the universe.

In addition, it opens new possibilities for its detection and study. The authors of the study hope to be able to validate their results through astronomical observations and experimental measurements that will be carried out in the future FAIR facility (Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research), which will allow the extreme conditions of space to be recreated.

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