It was a faint signal, but it told of one of the most violent acts in the universe, and it would soon reveal secrets of the cosmos, including how gold was created. Astronomers around the world reacted to the signal quickly, focusing telescopes located on every continent and even in orbit to a distant spot in the sky. What they witnessed in mid-August and revealed Monday was the long-ago collision of two neutron stars —

a phenomenon California Institute of Technology’s David H. Reitze called “the most spectacular fireworks in the universe.” “When these things collide, all hell breaks loose,” he said. Measurements of the light and other energy emanating from the crash have helped scientists explain how planet-killing gamma ray bursts are born, how fast the universe is expanding, and where heavy elements like platinum and gold come from. READ MORE