A team of physicists came across the proverbial mother lode of precious metals. Unfortunately, they stumbled across them as they were observing stars from the Reticulum II dwarf galaxy, which was only discovered last year...and is very far away (about 98,000 light-years from Earth).
In 1957, physicists Hans Suess and Harold Urey theorized that heavy elements such as gold are formed by a process that involves a rapid capture of neutrons called R-process, such as that in neutron star collisions.
However, where it’s formed remained unknown at that time, but they hypothesized that these elements were forged somewhere in the universe where there are an absurd amount of neutrons and where conditions are extreme: Where giant stars explode and neutron stars (the densest stars in our universe) merge.
Such conditions are common in the very early stages of dwarf galaxies like the Reticulum II, establishing that Suess and Urey were right.
And because neutron star mergers occur extremely rarely, this implies that much of these elements came from the same collisions, and were then transported to Earth by asteroids and meteors.
"Because just one of these neutron star mergers produced so much gold, probably all of the gold atoms that are in the four of us in this roundtable discussion came from the same event," said University of California astronomer Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz. "So we're not only linked by genetics, but by these exotic phenomena that happen in the Universe."