It’s thought that there are more stars in our visible universe than the combined total of grains of sand on all of our beaches. That’s one mind boggling fact, made even more incredible by contemplating the idea that most of those pinpricks of seemingly white light are likely to be suns of another far off planetary system.
If you extracted the light pollution of our lit up cities (or luckily live in the middle of nowhere) then those fascinating dots we’d be able to see are probably about as crucial to their own orbiting planets as our sun is to Earth. Only, those tiny specks of light are constantly moving away from us as the universe continues to expand, but it’s nothing personal as we’d appear to be doing to the same to any extraterrestrial onlooker.
That’s the bit that blew my tiny mind. School, for which I rarely paid attention, attempted to teach me the mysteries of the universe (understandably vague teachings given the religious underpinning of my attended educational establishments). It was years later though that I found myself in a position to comprehend that the universe isn’t some great, unchanging expanse of complete perfection, but that it is actually a constant work in progress (just like my website!). So it’s while the universe continuously creates, deletes and expands that we’re able to look at the ever recycling cosmos we inhabit, and thus can take a look at the question; just how does the universe recycle?
It’s something that goes back to the shenanigans we know and love as the Big Bang, wherein all the mass and energy around us today was first created. Through this process two elements were generated: hydrogen and helium. Since that moment of much debate, it’s fair to say there has been a couple of handy additions to the elemental table. Where exactly did those critical extras such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon come from? The short answer is stars - the great recycling scheme of the universe!
Our recycling habits are tiny when you think about it. So small, that when we compare them to the bigger mechanics at play, we can’t really complain about being asked to separate our plastic from our paper. While binmen come and collect ours fortnightly, the universe on the other hand doesn’t require the helping hand of man; instead, the recycling system that powers the outer space clean up operation relies on the remarkably resilient atom.
Atoms and their amazing ability to withstand pretty much everything you throw at them can be reused, in theory, an unlimited number of times. So a star is created (in a nutshell) through the culmination of gas and dust, which is pressed together by a gravitational force long enough to create a nuclear reaction (where new elements are created) at its core. The cloud, or nebula, that kick-started that chain reaction isn’t always used exclusively on the singular star either; the remainder can go on to create asteroids and even planets.
Once a star's lifespan is up (like our sun's will be one day) providing it doesn’t become unstable and inevitably form a black hole, the star will start to collapse, sending its aquired matter and energy back out into the universe as another cloud of gas and dust, eventually giving birth to a new star - and so the cycle forever continues.
There’s no doubting that we’ll all be long gone (over a billion years or so gone) before our own central star emits its final flares, eventually fading into the darkness, but one things for sure - we can rest easy knowing that when the time comes the universe will be there to literally pick up the pieces.
Although, thanks to your incredible support, we’ve hit our current Kickstarter campaign to bring Kurokawa’s fascinating look at the birth of stars to Liverpool, I still wanted to write this post to be reminded that they are far more important than those afterthought dots I’d add to school drawings in an attempt to demonstrate the evening - because stars at that time meant night time and only night time..
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