ASU Nexus for Exoplanet System Science

Location Could Be Everything for Aliens

NASA animation of a Neutron Star Merger. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

For a very long time, astronomers weren’t exactly sure of where most of the universe’s gold, uranium, and other heavy elements came from. Simulations of supernovas showed that they likely weren’t the culprit, but that neutron star mergers were. However, until recently, they had never witnessed such an event. Last summer, their suspicions were confirmed with the help of LIGO and telescopes trained on a neutron star merger, showing the spectral signatures of these heavy elements.
What does this mean for life and technology in the universe, though? Some heavy elements are necessary for both biology and circuitry, and if a planet doesn’t form from a cloud that has elements formed from a neutron star merger, any intelligent life could be out of luck if it wants to make contact with other worlds.

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