Stardust

By , February 7, 2010

Astronomer Geoffrey Burbidge died recently. I must confess that I’d never heard of him until I read his obituary in today’s paper. His renown came from a 1957 paper in which he put forth the notion that all life can be traced to stardust.

Currently Playing: Artie Shaw – Stardust

I really, really like this idea. I can’t pretend to understand a word of it, but it has something to do with ancient stars burning hydrogen, helium, and lithium, producing heavier elements like oxygen and carbon, then exploding these newly minted atoms into space where they mixed with cosmic dust, and formed new stars. Those new stars became old stars, exploded, seeded the universe further, and eventually the universe became enriched with heavier elements that ended up on planets and inside people like you and me.

Burbidges longtime friend, Allan Sandage of Carnegie Observatories, explained it in a far more poetic fashion: “Every one of our chemical elements was once inside a star. The same star. You and I are brothers. We came from the same supernova.”

I feel better about myself already. I’m made of stardust? Wow! Today will definitely be a good day. Dare I say it will be… stellar? How can’t it be? I woke up thinking I was a combination of gin, coffee, and Cesar’s tapas; we are what we eat, after all. Now I’m about to take a shower and face the world armed with the knowledge that I’m powered by the remnants of a supernova.

Hell yeah. Bring it on, world…

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Even Galactus is only made of planets.

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One Response to “Stardust”

  1. Bela Lugosi says:

    I have always admired Geoffrey Burbidge for this beautiful idea. Imagine, we all began from a singularity, where with the Big Bang the first light elements are created. As nucleosynthesis converts the elements to iron, more energy is needed to create the heavier elements; supernovae scatter the universe, creating such elements as gold.

    And here we are, composed of the same particles that were once a single point in the universe.

    Someone else had once told me too that we should feel so grateful to live in such a beautiful galaxy as the Milky Way.

    Don’t you feel so incredibly lucky that we all are created from the very same substances that peppered the universe some thirteen billion years ago? Not only that, but of ALL the elliptical and irregular galaxies in which the formations of stellar systems could have placed us, we were gifted with a beautiful spiral galaxy?

    (Please go out to the night sky and find the Orion Nebula some day. It is visible to the naked eye, you may even see its clouds of dust with binoculars. It is more than one thousand light years away, yet we have more in common than one can imagine!)

    [Reply]

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