Cosmic Ontology: We Are Made of Stars
We have all heard that “we are made of stars”, but how exactly is it that we are made of the same substance as heavenly bodies?
How many times have we heard the phrase: “we are made of stars”? Maybe the most memorable version of this phrase is Carl Sagan’s (Cosmos, 1980), but we can name a vast number of other references. Among these, a memorable phrase by George Bataille in Guilty comes to mind: “What am I but a ray from a dead star?”, and another by Neil deGrasse, Sagan’s heir: “We do not only live among the stars, stars live inside us”.
The extraordinary thing is, although there are moments when it may seem hard to fathom, we are, actually, widely speaking, made of stars. Perhaps the best approach to understand this is through the chemical world:
Stars produce light due to the power of fusion in their nuclei. This fusion happens because gravity blends hydrogen balls in the nuclei until hydrogen atoms react by casting away protons that coalesce with helium atoms. This process continues until helium becomes the dominant element of a star —which is where helium gets its name from; 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. Every atom, including ours, is made of these stars.
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 through fusion, because of the odd number of protons and the heaviness of the element. The process that happens is hence the opposite, a division of atoms. Iron nuclei with 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 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.
In sum, the veracity of one of the most aesthetic and inspiring premises surrounding the human essence is, chemically, verifiable. This means that we are all participants, in a literally substantial manner, in this ubiquitous dialogue held by the micro and the macro, a conversation that begins and ends, always, in the indelible unity of it all.
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