Blog 6 Making Gold by Mark Kingston Levin

How to make millions of tons of gold:


LIGO, a gravity wave detector used with many optical observatories, has found out how nature does it. The answer is at the end, but understanding requires a bit of a science lesson.

LIGO stands for laser interferometer wave observatory. LIGO searches for distortions in space-time, or the fabric of space as Einstein called it. He predicted gravity waves and black holes about a century ago. Finally, we have found the gravity waves, which provide strong evidence for black holes. In addition, we have found a total of four black hole collisions and one neutron star collision using LIGO.

Identical LIGO systems are located at Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford Washington. The L shaped detectors use a mirror system to split the laser beams in a four kilometer-long tunnel. Other LIGO facilities exist in Italy and many other locations in Europe and the UK. See a sketch of the optics below:


The figures above of a gravitational wave detector system shows the photons in blue and red and the mirror in green.  Einstein predicted that GRAVITY WAVES would stretch space-time in one direction and contract it in the perpendicular direction. Changes in the distance along the arms are detected by looking at the interference pattern of laser light.

LIGO site

*There are many photos online showing all of one 4 km-long arm and part of the other (off to the right or left). The visible arms are concrete structures that protect the vacuum tubes from the elements. One photo was provided by (Credit: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)


The photo shows the LIGO near Livingston, Louisiana during the early development and testing phase in 2002.  The LIGO facility has since been upgraded with improved lasers and detector systems and detected its first gravity waves in 2015.

LIGO is the world’s largest gravitational wave observatory and a cutting-edge physics experiment. Comprised of two enormous laser interferometers located thousands of kilometers apart, LIGO exploits the physical properties of light and of space itself to detect and understand the origins of gravitational waves.

Though it’s called an observatory, LIGO is unlike any other observatory on Earth. Ask someone to draw a picture of an observatory, and odds are it will look something like the photo below: a typical telescope dome on a mountain-top. As a gravitational wave observatory, LIGO bears no resemblance to this whatsoever.

For the fifth time, scientists have detected gravitational waves — ripples in space-time; however, this the first time that more than 69 electromagnetic observatories on Earth and in space were used together. What did they see? One incident detected was a spectacular collision of two neutron stars, which is a first. The other four gravitational wave detections turned out to be black holes colliding. In addition, this was also the first time that a cosmic event had been viewed in both gravitational waves and electromagnetic waves including radio, micro, IR, visible light, UV, x-ray and gamma ray waves.

The discovery was made using the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and verified by the European-based Virgo detector; and some 70 ground- and space-based observatories.

There are many in the Milky Way Galaxy. Neutron stars are the smallest, densest stars known to exist and are formed when massive stars explode in supernovas. As these binary neutron stars system aged, they spiraled closer and then finally they collided, emitting gravitational waves that were detectable for about 100 seconds. After that, a flash of radiation in the form of gamma rays was emitted and seen on Earth about two seconds after the gravitational waves. In the days following the smashup, other forms of light, or electromagnetic radiation —including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio waves — were detected for weeks.  The location of these colliding neutron stars is very near a lenticular class galaxy in the constellation of Hydra known as NGC 4993.

The photo of lenticular Galaxy NGC 5866 with a prominent dust lane in the constellation of Draco.

dense cloud

This photo shows dense cloud of gas that is not transparent, resulting in the dark line as well as the large bulge in the middle.

Lenticular galaxies are at the center of the Hubble tuning fork-shaped classification diagram, which is still used today as it was invented by Hubble years ago. The two spiral-galaxy branches join with the elliptical branch as shown below at SO: these lenticular galaxies are not actively forming stars in any significant quantity.


The observations have given astronomers an unprecedented opportunity to probe a collision of two neutron stars. For example, observations made by the US Gemini Observatory, the European Very Large Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope reveal signatures of recently synthesized material, including gold and other heavy metal such as platinum and uranium, solving a decades-long mystery of where about half of all elements heavier than iron are produced. There was more gold produced during the neutron star collision than is on Earth—much more. In fact, the estimated mass of gold produced is equal to the total mass of the earth.

Dr. Levin

Dr. Levin was born and grew up in Vermont with many winters spent in Florida as a child. As a teenager he wrote poetry, served as a lifeguard and played football. He currently enjoys sailing, exploring underwater caves, snorkeling, writing science fiction and other pursuits. After working on the Apollo and Mars projects, he returned to school to study under Nobel Laureate Paul Dirac, obtaining his PhD in 2.5 years. Dr. Levin founded two companies and served the science policy apparatus in President Ford’s administration. He has been published over 44 times in scientific literature and was awarded over 32 US patents. The science fiction writer is now emerging with his first work, a trilogy entitled 30th Century. The first award-winning book, 30th Century: Escape, is currently available on Amazon. Book two in the series, 30th Century: Revived, should be released before the end of April 2018.

2018-12-10T22:06:28+00:00 February 1st, 2018|Blog|