Forged in the heart of a star

In my last post I mentioned our connection to the stars and the universe, and I’ve been thinking about that some more. Consider for a moment that every atom that makes up your body was part of a star once. Think about some of the implications.

There’s a young Earth creationist group whose favorite tactic is the phrase “Were you there?” They train children to ask this question in schools, at museums, anytime someone talks about something happening millions of years ago. It’s every bit as childish and annoying as you imagine, all the irritation of a four year old repeatedly asking “why?” with none of the actual curiosity.

The thing is, from a certain point of view it’s a perfectly honest answer to say “Yes”. Yes, I was there when the dinosaurs died out, and so were you. The atoms that make up my body were already here, in the air, the ground, the oceans, and the plants and animals, even in the dinosaurs themselves. Scattered across the world, unbinding from one molecule and binding into another, and passing down through the ages until the time when, for a brief while, they would come together to form me. The same is true of you and everyone else who’s ever lived.

It works in the future, too. A child who will be born ten years from now is already here on Earth, at least in the same way that a box of plastic bricks contains the Millenium Falcon.

How fascinating it would be to select, say, an iron atom currently part of a hemoglobin molecule in my own bloodstream, and follow it back in time. To rewind through time to see how it became part of my body, where it came from before that, what it was part of before that. Trace it back through its time on Earth to the long, cold silence in space, to the violence of the supernova that expelled it from its parent star, to the moment of its creation in a flash of nuclear fusion in the heart of a red giant.

Since we’re already dreaming, why stop there? Why not select a proton from that iron atom and trace it through its time in the heart of a star, fusing backwards through the periodic table. Until we have a young star that winks out, from our rewinding point of view, into a tremendous gas giant that slowly evaporates. Until we reach the time before the first stars, when the universe was a sea of hydrogen and helium. And further, as our time-reversed cosmos contracts and heats into a vast cloud of plasma back to the original singularity, that theoretical point which once contained all of spacetime, 13.7 billion years ago. There’s no going back farther than that because at that point, the beginning of time as we understand it, there’s no past to go back into.

Many religions have a concept of unity and interconnectedness, the idea that in some way “all are one”. In the beginning, from what we can tell so far, this was literally true.

I’m always amazed by creationists who express incredulity that life could come from non-living matter, when we see it all the time. Plant a seed and watch it grow. The plant wasn’t all bunched up in that seed, crammed in there like a parachute waiting to unfold, it takes matter from the earth and air and water to build itself. Taking molecules and reshaping them into other molecules, as living things have done since before cells, before mitochondria, before DNA.

We tend to think of life as something separate from the usual concepts of matter and energy. Like it’s a mysterious, magical spark that kindles the flame of our personalities. But in the end we’re the same stuff as everything else. We get our matter from the Earth, and our energy from the Sun. We are connected to this world and its star in such a fundamental way that we usually don’t even see it, we are created by and of them.

Ponder that for a moment. Just close your eyes and imagine that connection. All the life on this world that ever lived has been passing around atoms in various molecules, taking matter from the Earth and energy from Sun. Ultimately all of it, all of that matter and energy, all the way to the Sun and Earth themselves, and all the rest of the Solar System, was formed from the remnants of an unstable star that exploded billions of years ago. One star among countless was the source of nearly everything humans knew existed until just a couple centuries ago, everything but the other stars themselves.

We live in an amazing universe filled with wonders. How, then, can we do any less than to try to be amazing and wonderful ourselves?


About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on April 4, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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