Monday, June 1, 2009

Where the Dust Came From

Copyright R. E.Morel 2009

Photo Quiz Answer: This might look like a gigantic cosmic event—perhaps a star exploding? It isn't. It's really a dime-size mold growing on an orange. That, however, doesn't make it any less cosmic. The mold is a living thing, and life expresses the same theme we have been talking about. Just as in a candle flame and in enormous dust clouds, such as the Pillars of Creation, life represents the best available means of dispersing matter and energy. In this case the mold is processing "orange matter" into diffuse gases (carbon dioxide and water vapor). And, though it's not apparent or easily measured, the mold is dissipating heat energy into the surroundings. We do essentially the same thing.

Now, back to those cosmic dust clouds. Where did the dust come from? It turns out that it came from the explosion of a giant star, a red giant, many billions of years ago. The photo below shows the size of one of these giant stars compared to our sun, the tiny, almost invisible, dot in the rectangle at the lower left. Before red giants explode they manufacture all of the matter that ends up in the clouds, and they leave behind plenty of resident energy that "needs" to be dispersed—eventually by new stars. That's how we got here. We come from dust clouds formed when a red giant exploded. And the material, except hydrogen, that makes up our bodies and everything else around us was manufactured in our gigantic "birth star." Hydrogen, a major component of life forms, has been around, almost literally, forever. It's fascinating to note that carbon, the central element in all of life's chemistry, is the first element to form in red giants. Next we'll look into the origin of life.

In the meantime, what's in the photo?

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