Valentine’s Special: Galactic Gold

Feb 14, 2007 by

The great thing about ever changing technology is that those humorous, informative, and interesting radio segments you want to share with others doesn’t have to be recorded on a cassette tape anymore, with the microphone pressed firmly against the speaker of your clock radio. Instead, you can simply post a link to the streaming content online, download a podcast, or just open up a music player link iTunes or Windows Media Player and enjoy the content when and where you want to.

While coming home today in the car I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR and was treated to one of the more humorous, yet highly scientific, Valentine’s segments that I’ve ever heard. Science reporter Robert Krulwich talked with Neil deGrasse Tyson about how the gold in all of those rings and pendants given to sweethearts today was made. No, not how the gold was dug up, refined, and fashioned into intricate shapes. They playfully joked about how the atoms of gold were made billions of years ago in the heart of a Supernova. Romantic, eh?

Seriously though, the segment was fun to listen to, with the two bantering about how stars need to reach a “bajillion” degrees in order to create atoms with enough protons to form gold, while still providing some seriously robust scientific explanations for how elements such as iron, aluminum, oxygen, and even gold are produced as stars burn hydrogen. Apparently the odds of one gold atom being formed are very rare when compared to other elements that have even numbers of protons. The segment would make an excellent resource for beginning chemistry classes discussing protons and their attraction to one another (or rather their lack of attraction). It’s also great for science classes studying astronomy and stars, more specifically how stars work, and what happens inside of them.

The best line be far is when it’s explained that in order to make gold the first thing you need is “a universe”.

The link below is unfortunately not a podcast, but you can at least choose whether to listen to it in Real Player or Windows Media format.

Galactic Gold: A Valentine’s Story

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  1. AndyAK

    Some time ago I took possibly the most “under-credited” 1 credit hour grad class labeled “Biogeochemical Cycling”. Asking the prof in advance about it, I got the response, “It’s about the beginning of everything”, and in fact looked at how the elements came to be from the Big Bang, and how they got distributed in the funny proportions they are. I was thinking it was the “odds” that were dominant, with stuff getting more rare as it got heavier. I’ve Googled looking for the chart, but can’t find it.

    It also looked at the universe as places where there was lots of concentrations of stuff, and places where there is nothing…..and a look at how we’re just riding along for a little bit on the entropy train. At the moment, these clumps of matter give us a place to live, and minerals to dig. One day everything will just be widely spread out cosmic dust a hair above absolute zero.

    As for now, enjoy your density. Without it, we’d be nothing at all.

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