We are the Dust of the Stars


The mysteries of the universe are often profound and are essentially incomprehensible. Sizes of galaxies and the universe itself can be theorized and often computed to generate an absurd large number. Sometimes that number is simply too long and it needs to be represented in an exponential form. Ten to the 32nd power or something that is too large to appreciate. Distances are calculated and a number is generated. Is it beyond our ability to comprehend such a large number? I think so.

One of my favorite subjects is supernovas. When a star of sufficient size experiences a gravitational collapse of its core, without getting into math that I cannot begin to understand, the star explodes. Some stars completely explode, shedding all matter into space, while larger stars will expel most of the stellar matter, but leave behind a neutron star, pulsar, or in some cases, a black hole. The remnants of the star will remain, providing interesting subjects for astronomers in far-away stars and galaxies. The stellar matter rushes off into space and over time will grow into nebula clouds. They are visions of beauty originating from a spectacular violent death of a star.

AAT 50. The field of supernova 1987A, before and after (March, 1
Supernova 1987A before (right) and after (left) in nearby Large Magellanic Cloud (nearby dwarf galaxy).

To be able to comprehend the sheer power of these explosions can be difficult. An average supernova can produce the same amount of energy in a moment as that of our sun throughout its life. Some photos exist now of supernovas caught on film. The before and after of an exploding star in a distant galaxy is impressive. The brightness of a single star, illuminating brighter than the galaxy it resides in, boggles the mind.

The expanding gasses rush into other matter, condensing and consolidating. In areas of high density, the compression and accumulation of matter will often result in the birth of a new start. It’s a circle of life that has been powering the universe since the start. Some of these stars will repeat the process over and over. Through death, the essential components of life are created.

Supernovas are some of the most crucial events in the universe. Combined with regular a nova (the star dies, but slowly sheds its matter through a long death process), heavy elements that are essential for the creation of all we know and see, are created. Look around. As you read this blog, realize that the materials, atoms, and elements that make up the monitor, your desk, the computer, or chair were all created from the stars.

So my parting thought to you today is to look at your left hand for a moment. Don’t think about the skin or the smoothness, but look at it from the molecular level. Think of the atoms that comprise it, the elements that were needed to create and sustain life. Now, look at your right hand. Think of the same thing. All of these were from ancient stars. Perhaps some of the elements are from the beginning of the universe itself. Atoms and elements in each of your hands probably came from different stars.

The expression that we are children of the stars, or that we are made of star dust is not just poetic, or a metaphor, but quite literally true. A deep thought, indeed.



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