Gold is Stardust

 This illustration shows the hot, dense, expanding cloud of debris stripped from two neutron stars just before they collided. Within this neutron-rich debris, large quantities of some of the universe's heaviest elements were forged, including hundreds of Earth masses of gold and platinum.   Image Credit   : NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab

This illustration shows the hot, dense, expanding cloud of debris stripped from two neutron stars just before they collided. Within this neutron-rich debris, large quantities of some of the universe's heaviest elements were forged, including hundreds of Earth masses of gold and platinum. Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab

Gold, in addition to being “unbelievably beautiful,” has another, almost magical, property. Scientists believe that gold is stardust.

Literally stardust.

Joni Mitchell wrote and performed a classic folk song in homage to Woodstock, entitled Woodstock. It was made more famous when covered by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on their album Déjà Vu. Its refrain:

We are stardust, we are golden

We are billion year old carbon

And we got to get ourselves back to the garden….

That is a great metaphor for humanity (or at least the Hippies amongst us). It is literally true of gold.

Gold is stardust. How was it made?

Imagine a teaspoon full of stuff weighing as much as “1 million very large elephants.” That’s what the scientists say it takes to create gold.

This was the theory.

Very, very recently, astrophysicists received proof.

As The Independent recently headlined a story: Two stars crash into each other, wobbling the universe and flinging out huge amounts of gold:

Scientists have observed two stars slamming into each other deep in space, sending out huge amounts of gold in an alchemical explosion.

The super-dense stars crashed together 130 million light years away, spewing out precious metals and other heavy elements like platinum and uranium – and experts say the event has kickstarted a "new chapter in astrophysics" and confirmed theories about the origin of the mysterious neutron stars.

The huge explosion rocked the fabric of the universe, distorting spacetime. That is a major discovery in itself, marking only the fifth time that gravitational waves have been spotted on Earth.

Analysis of the light revealed something astonishing – the manufacture of gold on a cosmic scale, as well as other heavy elements.

Dr Joe Lyman from the University of Warwick, one of many British scientists involved, said: "The exquisite observations obtained in a few days showed we were observing a kilonova, an object whose light is powered by extreme nuclear reactions.

"This tells us that the heavy elements, like the gold or platinum in jewellery, are the cinders forged in the billion degree remnants of a merging neutron star."

The origins of gold and other heavy elements have been a long-standing mystery, but recent evidence has suggested that colliding neutron stars could have a hand in their creation.

For those readers who have gold holdings, no worries that the “huge amounts of gold” thereby flung will increase the terrestrial supply and thus reduce the value of your holdings. The light from this collision took 130 million years to get here.

Matter travels much more slowly than light. That gold would arrive on Earth, if at all, billions of years from now.  More likely: Never.


An article at Quartz embellishes the stellar origins of gold rather beautifully:

Everyone has seen the periodic table. The colorful list of all the elements in the universe, found in the back of chemistry textbooks and on nerdy posters, is immediately recognizable to anyone who has gone through high school. It may surprise you, however, to learn we’ve had no proof where most of the elements on the table come from.

We can find almost all of these elements on Earth, yet we don’t know how our little planet got them. They certainly didn’t form here.

To forge new stable elements, you need extreme amounts of energy that will crush and put the sub-atomic components of elements—protons, electrons, and neutrons—together in new configurations.

The sun is large and exacts tremendous pressure. Might it produce all of the elements in the periodic table? Nope, our sun is too small for the kinds of energy needed to produce heavier elements.

Scientists have theorized that these remaining elements are made in even more violent celestial events—and now they have proof. Today (Oct. 16), in a series of papers published in many landmark journals, hundreds of scientists tell the story of observing one of the most epic events in the universe: the violent merger of two neutron stars.

… Neutron stars are some of the smallest, densest stars we know. They do not have much more mass than our sun, but all of it is compressed into a ball no bigger than the width of a mid-sized city (about 15 km, or 9 miles). That’s a lot of compression. A teaspoon of neutron star would weigh 10 billion kg (or 22 billion lbs)—about the same as 1 million very large elephants.

Stardust! Humanity has long sensed something special about gold.

It is recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures that gold was used, extensively, to adorn the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple. The 37th chapter of the Book of Exodus describes this:

37 And Bezaleel made the ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half was the length of it, and a cubit and a half the breadth of it, and a cubit and a half the height of it:

2 And he overlaid it with pure gold within and without, and made a crown of gold to it round about.

3 And he cast for it four rings of gold, to be set by the four corners of it; even two rings upon the one side of it, and two rings upon the other side of it.

4 And he made staves of shittim wood, and overlaid them with gold.

5 And he put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, to bear the ark.

6 And he made the mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half was the length thereof, and one cubit and a half the breadth thereof.

7 And he made two cherubims of gold, beaten out of one piece made he them, on the two ends of the mercy seat….

It is recorded in Christian Scripture as one of the three gifts of the Magi -- Zoroastrian priests -- given to the baby Jesus. According to the nativity story recorded in the second chapter of the Book of Matthew:

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

Yet another connection between a star and gold?

I am not superstitious and do not imply that gold has mysterious or mystical powers. The connection here simply is that gold has long held a special fascination for the human imagination and world culture.

Gold, in addition to luster, has always possessed dignity.

Always has. Always will.

Owning gold -- preferably, for practical reasons, on the blockchain as Responsible Gold now allows you so safely and easily to do -- connects you emotionally and psychologically to some of the most splendid treasure troves of culture and of history.

And we now learn that gold also connects us, literally, to the stars themselves.

Owning some could “wobble your universe” ever so slightly in wonderful ways.

Gold is stardust. 




Ralph J. Benko