The gold standard

Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, has a sure-fire recipe for gold. All you have to do is get the densest stars in the universe—neutron stars—to fuse.

Neutron stars in binaries will orbit each other and slowly come together in a dance that lasts hundreds of millions of years. The intense heat from this merger is enough to produce, through neutron capture, up to a Jupiter-sized mass of pure gold.

Enrico Ramirez
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz

That gold, together with other heavy elements, later were incorporated into clouds of gas and dust that form stars and planets as well as all the other smaller objects orbiting the sun—including asteroids and comets.

But how did that gold end up on planet Earth? The answer is that it was part of the raw materials from which the world was made. That gold sank into the Earth’s molten core. But hundreds of millions of years later, our planet got bombarded with many asteroids carrying gold, which wound up fairly close to the surface of the Earth. This is the gold we mine and turn into jewelry to this day.

When the gold-bearing asteroids struck Earth, a big cloud of debris rose into the atmosphere and eventually settled, scattering trace amounts of gold and other elements all over the Earth’s surface. Those elements eventually worked their way into our food and into our bodies.

So the recipe for gold is all very simple, really. Neutron stars, billion-degree heat, and rapid nuclear capture, all followed by asteroid bombardment—and you’re golden.