I was reading the Q&A about how gold was formed.
It seems there are "theories" of gold being formed
in a supernova explosion. Is this theory or fact?
|Question Date: 2016-07-06|
It is a fact. Gold like many of the high atomic
number elements is made during supernova events
that occur at the end stage of the life cycle of
massive stars, that is, stars more than about
5-10 times the mass of the Sun.
In fact, other than Hydrogen and Helium which
were made during the Big Bang, essentially all
other elements are made either in the interior of
massive stars, OR during the explosions that take
place when a star goes supernova.
Scientists are very careful about what they call
fact. (Or at least they should be very careful!)
If you come up with any new idea about how the
world works, you can call it a theory. Then it
might be proven or disproven or neither.
If a theory is not true, it's often easy to
disprove. On the other hand, proving a good theory
is usually much harder to do. No matter how much
evidence you have, it's hard to guarantee that we
won't someday find one piece of evidence that
disproves the theory.
So a lot of good theories stay theories and we
can't say they're facts. They can still be
valuable, though! For example, our theory about
the origin of gold might be a good way to
guess where supernovas have occurred in the
universe (based on where we find gold), or a way
to guess how where gold is in the universe (based
on where we think supernovas occurred).
Remember that gravity is a theory. It's a very
good theory, so good that it basically
qualifies as a fact.
Elements heavier than iron, including gold, are
created in the intense gravity-driven nuclear
reactions that also drive the explosion of a
supernova. There are other ways that these
elements can be made, but have found no mechanism
that produces these elements in the quantities
that supernovae do.
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