Scientists were able to detect traces of an element commonly used in fireworks in the aftermath left by the collision of two stars. According to the scientists, their discovery could shed new light on the cosmic origins of heavy elements.

The collision between the two stars happened two years ago. According to reports, two neutron stars hit one another, causing a massive explosion in space. Neutron stars are known as supernova remnants. Even though they are known as the smallest stars in the universe, with diameters similar to the size of a city such as Chicago, they are still very dense. Most neutron stars hold mass greater than that of the Sun.

Following the collision in 2017, astronomers detected traces of various heavy elements including platinum, gold and lead. Recently, the astronomers came across another element that they believe was produced by the stellar collision.

"By reanalyzing the 2017 data from the merger, we have now identified the signature of one heavy element in this fireball, strontium, proving that the collision of neutron stars creates this element in the Universe," lead researcher Darach Watson of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark said, according to CNN.

Strontium is a type of alkaline earth metal. Processing this element can produce various compounds that can be used in various applications. For example, strontium chloride is usually used in kinds of toothpaste for sensitive teeth while strontium aluminate is added to the other chemicals used in glow-in-the-dark toys. Strontium carbonate, on the other hand, is added to fireworks to provide them with deep red colors.

The discovery of strontium in space led researchers to believe that certain cosmic events can lead to the formation of various heavy elements.

"This is the final stage of a decades-long chase to pin down the origin of the elements," Watson explained. "We know now that the processes that created the elements happened mostly in ordinary stars, in supernova explosions, or in the outer layers of old stars. But, until now, we did not know the location of the final, undiscovered process, known as rapid neutron capture, that created the heavier elements in the periodic table."

The study conducted by the scientists regarding their discovery was published in the journal Nature.  

eso orbit kilonova neutron stars This artists rendering shows the neutron stars prior to collision. Photo: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser