How Did Life Begin & Why Are We Made of Stars
How did life begin
How did life begin on Earth? At a first glance, it seems like a pretty straight-forward question and the majority of us know the answer to. A recent study at UCLA in Los Angeles, CA shows that this isn’t the case – more than two thirds out of 13294 online poll-voters have got it wrong and the basic understanding of life on Earth isn’t that obvious after all.
Here’s the answer – we are made of stars. Actual, real, massive stars that weren’t necessarily a part of the Milky Way and it had everything to do with The Big Bang Theory.
We know that there are four base elements needed for life to exist – Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen and Nitrogen (96%) followed by Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium, Chlorine and Magnesium, which add another 3.5% to the pie. The rest are trace elements and they make up the remaining 0.5% – Boron, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Fluorine, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Selenium, Silicon, Tin and Vanadium.
Majority of the above elements don’t occur in nature spontaneously – so how did they end on planet Earth?
There’s a theory that can be backed with scientific facts and answered right away – we are made of stars.
Stars, like our own sun for instance, are extremely hot and give off an enormous amount of light that reaches even the furthest point in the universe. Every star is unique and it has its own temperature and properties – they can range between 3,000 K (Kelvin) all the way to 60,000 K (2,726.85 C to 59726.85 C).
Anything that burns at a temperature of around 3,000 K gives off a red color – these are the least hot stars; and analogically – a very hot star will give off a blue color which begins from 30,000 K upwards. Everything in between is either yellow-orange, yellow or white (white being hotter than yellow-orange). Our sun has a temperature of 5,778 K (5504.85 C) hence the bright yellow color.
All stars run on fuel such as Hydrogen that is burnt on an enormous scale – our sun consumes about 400 million tons of hydrogen every second and the result is astonishing – it makes it the brightest object in the Solar System, but the most important thing that accompanies the severe burning is rather hidden from our naked eye – the process of nuclear fusion.
The fusion allows for new elements to be created in the core by squeezing its Hydrogen together. Firstly, stars fuse Hydrogen atoms into Helium. (He) atoms then fuse to create Beryllium, and so on, until fusion in the star’s core has created every element up to Iron.
For instance, the temperature on our sun allows for nuclear fusion of Helium and trace amounts of other elements – Oxygen, Carbon, Neon, Nitrogen, Magnesium, Iron and Silicon. These elements are created in the sun’s core, which makes up 25% of the sun mass. Unfortunately, the temperature of the sun isn’t high enough to create an abundance of these trace elements, not to mention heavier substances such as Lead, Silver, Gold or Uranium.
Now, that we know how elements are created – it should be rather simple to answer the question of how did life begin. While there are theories that large asteroids and comets brought all of the missing pieces to Earth to create the simplest life form are also true, there’s one particular portion of facts that’s missing – asteroids or comets didn’t create any elements.
So where did they come from?
You, me and everyone else are made of stars – stars that were created right after the Big Bang and are now dead. When a star exhausts its supply of fuel, it dies in a violent, loud and tormenting exothermic reaction – it explodes.
Imagine a bomb that’s 100,000,000,000,000 (100 Trillion) times bigger and heavier than the World War 2’s atomic bomb that was deployed in Hiroshima, Japan and multiply that number by 10,000,000,000 (10 Billion) times to get an idea of how heavy an average ready-to-blow-up star is. By running out of fuel, a typical star will get larger and become a red giant (its temperature drops as the fuel is being exhausted hence the color). Once fully gone, the star collapses on itself by its own gravity and explodes creating a Nova.
The explosion of a much larger star is also called a Supernova, which can be billions of times brighter than the Sun. This process is accompanied by extremely high temperatures reaching 100,000,000,000 C (100 Billion Centigrade) and only then heavy elements such as Lead, Silver, Gold, Uranium etc are forged. The particles that contain all of the base elements needed to create life as well as heavier elements such as Gold etc. are then blown into the space in all directions at enormous speeds.
Blown-up particles travel the vastness of space until they hit anything that lies in their way and cannot burn them – asteroids, comets, planets, moons etc. An average size asteroid wouldn’t have been able to bring enough life-creating elements to Earth.
It’s the fact that a large amount of those elements were released during an exploding star that there is life on our planet.
Simply put, a star needs to die in order to create life. As dramatic as it sounds, it proves to be the only reasonable explanation. In the early 80’s, scientist Carl Sagan hosted and narrated a 13-episode TV series called “Cosmos” that was aired on PBS channel. He says:
“We are a way for the universe to know itself, but how did life begin? Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff and that stuff was created right after The Big Bang.”
He then explains in detail the process of the element forging phenomena. In fact, he anticipates that the life as we know it was created over 4.5 billion years ago where the base elements were launched into space prior to a massive explosion of one of the first stars in the cosmos.
As a science fun fact, it is worth mentioning that there is a star in our galaxy that’s about to die – and it can happen as soon as today. Betelgeuse in the distant galaxy M82 (Orion constellation) is about to die any minute now and the star has drawn a lot of excitement in January 2015. It’s only 430 light-years away from Earth – but that’s just an estimate as for some reason it’s rather tricky for today scientists to determine the true distance of any red giant stars – to 650 light-years.
Betelgeuse is one of the most famous stars in the sky as it can be clearly observed with a naked eye. It’s also quite easy to find as it glows deep orange. That’s because it’s running out of fuel to burn and the temperature is dropping quite drastically.
According to NASA, only in the last 12 months of this article, Betelgeuse became nearly 15% fainter causing a dramatic temperature drop.
When Betelgeuse explodes creating its very own Supernova, a giant fire-ball slightly bigger than our Moon will be visible from Earth for as long as 2 to 8 weeks (also during the daytime).
Until next time!