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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Are We Stardust?

The source of human life, its connections and origins, is an ongoing study of controversy. Regardless of the theory, creationism or evolution, the composition of the elements of the body are generally accepted. Science and religion create intense curiosity and beg much further investigation. Understanding the universe and humanity's place in it has always been a primary focus of human inquiry since the time of the caveman. 

Here is one of American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson's (Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan) top ten favorite facts about the universe:

"There are more molecules of water in a cup of water than cups of water in all the world's oceans. This means that some molecules in every cup of water you drink passed through the kidneys of Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Abe Lincoln or any other historical person of your choosing. Same goes for air: There are more molecules of air in a single breath of air than there are breaths of air in Earth's entire atmosphere. Therefore, some molecules of air you inhale passed through the lungs of Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, Beethoven, Socrates or any other historical person of your choosing." (Washington Post, December 16 2007)

Quite an amazing conception? Tyson also relates that with chemical elements forged over 14 billion years in the fires of high-mass stars that exploded into space, and with these elements enriching subsequent generations of stars with carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and other basic ingredients of life itself, we are not just figuratively but literally made of stardust. (Washington Post, December 16 2007)

Since the elements were formed in the interior of stars, we often call this "star dust". NAI Senior Scientist David Morrison states, "The Earth and everything on it, including the oceans, atmosphere, and life itself, are composed largely of material that was once stardust, and later incorporated into the solar system as it formed." (May 8 2006)
And, incredibly, Richard Grant of Nature Network ("We Are Stardust," October 17 2008), contends these atoms were made in stars back at the beginning of the Universe, billions of years ago. And when another star dies -- or goes "nova" -- these new atoms are spread into space and form part of new stars, and planets, and people: all made from bits of old stars.

Literally, then how much of a person is stardust? The statement that we are all "star stuff" was coined by the late astronomer Carl Sagan. Scientists have established that every element in the periodic table aside from hydrogen is essentially stardust, so to determine how much of the body is made up of stardust, they have to know how many hydrogen atoms are in the body, then they can say that the rest is stardust. It turns out that after calculations, the scientists conclude that 93% of the mass in the body is stardust, forged in the fiery belly of a star what lived and died before the Sun was born. (, 2009)

Add to this another wondrous thought. It seems that diamonds are found in huge numbers in some meteorites. Now, American astronomers believe these diamonds were formed in supernova explosions. First isolated in meteorites in 1987 by Edward Anders of the University of Chicago, tiny diamonds (so miniscule that trillions could fit on the head of a pin) have been researched. Some scientists believe they have found evidence that the colossal cloud of dust thought to be thrown up into the atmosphere in the wake of a meteorite's impact may spread newly formed diamond dust all around the world. (New Scientist, February 8 1992)

Perhaps all humans contain a little of this diamond stardust. Stare into the skies on a clear, star-filled night and feel the immediate connection and awesome wonder. As an infinite extension of our own being, the Universe seems to cradle us in a mysterious, but secure, divine scheme -- diamonds and stardust together awaiting heavenly transformation. 

"Humans are genetically connected with life on Earth, chemically connected with life on other star systems and atomically connected with all matter in the universe."  -- Neil deGrasse Tyson


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