The following is an article from Uncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader.
(Image credit: Virginia State Parks)
Do you have a ring on your finger? Is it made from gold, silver, platinum, or another natural metal? Then ponder this: The metal in that ring on your finger is older than the planet you’re standing on.
WHAT IS “METAL”?
Scientifically speaking, metals are naturally occurring chemical elements that are typically hard, lustrous, and good conductors of both heat and electricity. Examples include iron, gold, silver, copper, zinc, nickel, etc., but also elements we don’t normally think of as metals. One is sodium- a metal we regularly eat: Sodium is a soft, silvery white metal that commonly bonds with the element chlorine to form sodium chloride, or common salt.
Another is astatine, which was discovered in 1940 in a lab, where it was created artificially. It wasn’t discovered in nature until 1943. Astatine is highly radioactive, and only a single ounce of it is believed to exist -in total- on Earth. Of the 118 known chemical elements in existence, 88 of them are metals.
So, where did all these metals come from? Here’s a very simplified explanation:
All elements, including metals, are made of the same stuff: atomic material—electrons, neutrons, and protons. Atoms of different elements can be distinguished from one another by the number of protons they contain. (The number of neutrons and electrons can vary even among atoms of the same element.) For example, a hydrogen atom contains just one proton. A gold atom has 79. This is true of every one of the countless hydrogen and gold atoms in the universe.
If you could find a way to mash 79 hydrogen atoms together into one atom, you’d have an atom with 79 protons, and therefore you’d have a gold atom. And that’s almost exactly what happens… except it happens inside stars.
THERE’S GOLD IN THEM THAR STARS
Roughly 13.7 billion years ago, matter first appeared in the form of atoms of the two lightest elements: hydrogen, with one proton, and helium, with two. They remain, by far, the most abundant elements in the universe.