We're all dead stars

Every once in awhile, I stop to ponder this amazing thing we call life and the fact that all of the elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created with the massive power in an exploding star. And that means that most of us, our hair and skin, our brains are built from matter that was created in an exploding star. Pretty neat.

The first stars, and dark matter

Scientist recently announced that they've discovered "fingerprints" of the earliest stars. These aren't your garden variety neutron, red giants, or yellow dwarfs (shout-out to my favorite ball of hydrogen and helium eight light minutes away). These were the pioneers of "today's" stars, big, blue, fast-living and fast-dying.

This is amazing. These stars were around only about 180 million years after the Big Bang, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago. When they collapsed and exploded, the universe welcomed its first heavy matter (everything other than hydrogen, helium and a smattering of lithium). These stars were really the first baby steps of what makes us possible. Most people aren't aware that somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of our bodies is made from elements created in an exploding star.

Now these puppies apparently acted a little weird and one scientist has proposed that it's because their hydrogen interacted with dark matter. This is getting beyond me, but it seems until now dark matter was believed to only interact with normal matter through gravity. I'm not touching this one.

Isn't science great?

A plea for more eclipse mania!

The eclipse furor that swept America this past week did my heart some good. I’ve been a science nut for a long while—whether it be gut bacteria, climate change, subatomic particles, astronomy or just about anything else—and to see so many people get excited about it helped to restore some of my faith in humanity after the political dumpster fire that is the current administration. And maybe it’s because, for me, astronomy is the most fascinating study of them all (and slightly more graspable than string theory).

I often stare at the night sky in amazement contemplating our little solar system with its variety of orbs and oddly shaped rocks spinning around the sun. I read somewhere that the light that bounces off us goes on essentially forever so that in a couple million years, it’s possible that an alien a couple million light years away with a good enough telescope will be watching me walk to the store. That stopped my brain in its tracks and I wondered why there weren’t more people excited about thinking things like that.

I figure one of the problems is the utter lack of scientific knowledge held by John and Jane Doe. According to a survey by the National Science Foundation, 74 percent of Americans say the earth revolves around the sun (that leaves 26 percent who think it’s the other way around or don’t know) and less than half of Americans know that humans evolved from earlier species of animals. This flummoxes me. And there’s a percentage of people who seem to think of science as something you can choose not to believe. As an atheist, it’s particularly beguiling to hear someone hold up the Bible as the purveyor of truth while casting doubt upon science.

Before the advent of the lightning rod, Christians were taught, and believed, that the air was full of devils, tempests and witches and it was they who caused storms and lightning. It was all part of God’s will and it wasn’t the worst notion until the 18th century when the churches kept burning down even during heavy bouts of prayer while the brothels and gambling houses equipped with lightning rods, were left untouched. Thank you Ben Franklin.

Anyway, I’m not against people having beliefs. I can’t join them, but I can urge them to accept science too. Climate change is real and humans are responsible for at least a lot of it. The universe was not created 10,000 years ago. The sun is a star, a type that’s quite prevalent in our galaxy and elsewhere in the universe.

Consider: A teaspoon of a neutron star would weigh six billion tons. Light is really, really fast, and yet, it still takes over eight minutes for it to travel from the sun to earth. If you took all the space out of our atoms, the human race could fit in the volume of a sugar cube. Thanks to time-space and gravity, time passes quicker on a plane than at sea level. Humans contain 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells.

That’s a drop in the bucket of amazing discoveries thanks to science. And while science has made mistakes through the centuries, we’ve gotten extremely good at it. So when 97 percent of scientists say we’re responsible for global warming, we’re responsible for global warming. Can I personally prove it? No. But when I see hoof prints, I think horses, not zebras. And a global conspiracy apparently to con the United States out of money makes a lot less sense than the world’s scientists agreeing about climate change because that’s what the data says.

Scientists told us the moon was going to pass between the earth and the sun this past week. And they’ve been trying to save our asses for the last several decades. Maybe we ought to listen.
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