Many are familiar with the phrase, "We are all made of stars." But how exactly is it that we are made of the same substance as stars?
How many times have we heard the phrase: “we are all made of stardust.” Maybe the most recurring form of this quote is that of Carl Sagan (Cosmos, 1980), but we can name a vast number of references. Among them, the memorable George Bataille’s phrase from Guilty comes to mind: “What am I but a ray from a dead star?,” and another by Neil de Grasse, Sagan’s literary heir: “We do not only live among the stars, stars live inside us.”
The extraordinary thing is, although there are moments when it is hard to grasp, the undeniable fact is that, yes, we are fundamentally made of stardust. To get ourselves beyond metaphorical assumptions which are, by the way, deeply inspiring, we can understand this idea from the objective point of view: chemical-composition, which permeates all the bodies in the universe. Stars produce light due to the power of fusion in their nuclei. This fusion happens because gravity blends hydrogen balls in the nuclei until the hydrogen atoms react by casting away protons that coalesce with helium atoms. This process continues until the helium becomes the dominant element of a star, which is where “helium” gets its name; it is a word historically associated with the sun. If a star is copious enough it will explode as a supernova, dispersing all of its elements throughout the universe. All the atoms, as well as the hydrogen are made of these stars -that includes us as well. It should be noted however, that not all elements are made from the fusion in the stars’ nuclei; some of the heavier elements are composed from what is known as neutron capture. For example, gold is hard to obtain though the use of fusion, due to the odd number of protons and the heaviness of the element. The process that happens is hence the opposite, a division of the atoms. The iron nuclei that have more neutrons than protons come apart. These neutrons are projected towards the adjacent elements creating neutron deposits in them. When some of these neutrons become protons, golden elements such as lead and uranium are consequently created. The heavy elements are also the product of the alchemy takes takes place in “the Athanor of the stars.” Thus, it is safe to say that if every single atom in the universe had a working memory, they’d remember being part of a star.
So, are you ready to embrace the exciting responsibility implied in the fact that we are all star stuff?