A neutron star merger. NASA Image.

NIC instructor describes ‘unprecedented’ astronomical discovery

Gold falling from the sky.

While North Island College physics instructor Jennifer Fallis Starhunter laughs at the idea, in theory, the concept is somewhat valid, thanks to an “unprecedented” astronomical discovery made public only a few days ago.

“It changes astronomy forever,” explained Starhunter from the Comox Valley campus, whose research work involves explaining the production of chemical elements in stars, novae and some types of supernovae.

For years, scientists and astronomers have theorized how most elements on the periodic table were made (almost all elements on Earth did not form on the planet), and thanks to a rare cosmic event, they now have proof.

“It’s revolutionary astronomy; we’ve never seen anything like this before. We now get an understanding of where chemical elements come from,” she noted.

In late August, Starhunter said scientists discovered the very violent merger of two neutron stars.

Neutron stars are ancient remnants of stars that have reached the end of their evolutionary life, and undergo gravitational collapse, according to NASA.

Protons and electrons are literally scrunched together. Matter is packed so tightly, that a sugar cube-sized amount of material would weigh more than one billion tons.

In order to create new elements, an extreme amount of energy is needed to crush protons, electrons and neutrons together in new configurations.

When two neutron stars come close to each other, their gravities pull on each other and create disturbances in space-time, known as gravitational waves.

The waves, while “extremely difficult to detect,” were picked up by three detectors across the globe, only milliseconds apart, said Starhunter.

While the event occurred 130 million years ago, the gravitational waves only just recently reached the Earth, as they move at the speed of light.

Starhunter added when she began her studies, some of the best evidence to look at how elements were created were supernovas. In the early 2000s, she said there really was only one model, but in the last two decades, computers became much more powerful, and better predictions began to take shape.

“We looked at the supernova and thought, ‘wait – it’s not doing what it should be doing.’ Let’s look at neutron stars – that’s an option. Now we’ve seen one.”

Once the gravitational waves were detected from the neutron star merger, gamma-ray detectors were able to pick up information, and were better able to tell scientists where to look in the sky.

Starhunter said within 24 hours of the event, detectors were able to pick up gamma, gravitational, optical, infrared, radio, UV and x-ray waves.

People with optical telescopes could pick up the sight in the sky, and she noted amateur astronomers could see it around the world.

“It looks like a faint star that wasn’t there before.”

Because of the information gathered, scientists can now begin to study neutron stars more closely, specifically what is inside, how many there might be in the universe and how often a merger might happen.

“For me, it’s a piece of the puzzle that was missing. It fills in a huge gap of knowledge; it’s like turning on a new sense.

“We now know that all gold on earth came from some cataclysmic star event.”

Just Posted

Nursing graduates coming to work at Comox Valley, Campbell River hospitals

Twenty-two casual and temporary nurses will be hired

Saratoga Speedway celebrates its 50th opening night of racing May 5

In 1968 the central Vancouver Island communities and business came together to… Continue reading

Cumberland May Day Bean Dinner planned

Labour Minister Harry Bains as guest speaker at annual event

Draft plan for Union Bay coal hills remediation to be submitted this spring

West Fraser Mills is paying for the installation of an engineered membrane

Crowdfunding page created for family of Comox Valley man killed in Peru

A GoFundMe page has been created for the family of Sebastian Woodroffe,… Continue reading

VIDEO: B.C. ‘escapologist’ stuns judges on Britain’s Got Talent

Matt Johnson says televised water stunt was closest he’s come to death

NAFTA talks hold Foreign Affairs Minister in Washington, substitute heads to NATO summit

NAFTA talks keeping Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, sends substitute to NATO summit

Britain gives long-lost Franklin expedition ships to Canada, Inuit

Deeds to HMS Erebus and HMS Terror signed over to Canada and Inuit Heritage Trust

Grief over deadly Toronto van attack sinks in

Three days after rampage, people still gathering at memorial to lay flowers and honour victims

Liberals urged to tax e-commerce services like Netflix

Trudeau has been adamant that his government wouldn’t increase taxes on online subscriptions

Why some B.C. daycares didn’t opt in to subsidy program

Deadline passes for program aimed at laying foundation for universal child care

Charges follow collisions between pickup and police vehicles in Nanaimo

Majore Jackson, 32, and Andrew John Bellwood, 47, from Nanaimo, face numerous charges

WATCH: Moms Stop The Harm respond to opioid crisis

Someone asked her if she does the work for her son. McBain said: “No, actually. I do it for your son.”

Most Read