Heavy Element Mystery

Heavy Element Mystery - Gold

One of the most interesting questions about creation is how elements are produced. Simply saying that “God did it” is not the answer. The question we are asking is HOW God did it. A particular challenge to science has been the heavy element mystery.

We understand and can duplicate the production of light elements by the process of nuclear fusion. Hydrogen nuclei can be fused to produce helium, and we see this process as it takes place in the Sun. We can duplicate the process in the hydrogen bomb. As we study the stars, we see other elements produced in stellar processes. When supernova 1987A exploded, scientists saw neon being produced, which is far beyond anything we can do. In theory, the first 26 elements in the periodic chart could be produced by what we see happening in stars.

The heavy element mystery is how elements heavier than iron are produced. For example, how do you make gold? The old alchemists tried in vain to make it by reactions in the laboratory, but we have not seen it being produced even in supernovas. The number of protons present in gold is over three times the number of protons in iron. The amount of energy required to make an atom of gold by nuclear fusion is beyond our comprehension.

In 2017, scientists observed two neutron stars colliding and producing elements heavier than iron. But what would it take to produce uranium with 92 protons and a weight 238 times heavier than hydrogen? That remains a real heavy element mystery. We are not suggesting a “god of the gaps” explanation. In the distant future, science may find an answer, but what it testifies to is the incredible power we see in the cosmos and the design that allows us to have the gold, silver, platinum, and radioactive materials we use.

The heavy element mystery reminds us of how puny and small we are in the context of creation. We have an even better understanding of our insignificance than did the author of Psalms 8:3-4 who wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained; what is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Click THIS LINK to read a Science News report on a current theory scientists have about the origin of gold.

A Glimpse of God’s Incredible Power

A Glimpse of God's Incredible Power
A very long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, two neutron stars circled each other. They got closer and closer, speeding up as they did so. They reached a speed of 100 orbits every second, and then they collided. The collision was so violent that a gravitational wave was sent out and a cloud of subatomic particles was released that produced large amounts of gold, platinum, and uranium. As that happened, a blast of high energy gamma rays was released. By this process, we received a glimpse of God’s incredible power as the energy reached Earth last August.

As astronomers were watching at 8:41 AM EDT on August 17, 2017, they observed the gravitational waves followed 1.7 seconds later by the gamma-ray burst. They gave the identification of SSS17a to the merger of the two neutron stars. Its location was in galaxy NGC 4993. Astronomers were amazed at the timing of the collision and the fact that they had their telescopes in the right place at the right time to observe and measure it. Astronomer Ryan Foley says, “We’ve been walking around for all of humanity being able to see the universe but not able to hear it. Now we get both. It’s even hard to predict where this field will go.”

The location of the collision was so far away that it happened some 130 million years ago and it took the energy that long to reach the Earth. Science is now beginning to understand God’s creation of gravity. Also, scientists are learning how heavy elements like gold and platinum were produced.

For Christians, all of this shows a glimpse of God’s incredible power. It almost seems as though God knew that it was time for us to comprehend His making of the special things in the cosmos. He sent a glimpse of the process in 2017, so we could see and wonder at all He has done. It gives a whole new understanding to: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Astronomy, January 2018, page 10.