Let’s talk today’s big science news!
I remember — or I think I remember — Carl Sagan saying in the original Cosmos, “We are made of starstuff.”
That’s true. We are. The Big Bang produced a lot of plasma and a lot of hydrogren. The hydrogen came together and formed the first stars. As stars burn hydrogen, they fuse it into helium. When stars explode, the hydrogen and helium fuses into heavier elements. Everything that you’re made of, every plant you see growing, every rock, every pebble, the air that you breathe, the ocean that laps at the shore — billions of years ago, it was once the fuel for a star.
Astronomers have spotted the biggest star explosion ever.
In some distant galaxy, this explosion will create the building materials for planets. Perhaps one of those planets could have the conditions necessary for the development of life. In the death throes of a star, life could be the result.
This supernova happened almost four billion years ago. Life on Earth, such as it was, was still single-celled. The moon was much closer to the Earth (and there’s a possibility that Earth may have had a second moon at the time.) Earth and the moon were being pelted by rocks in the Late Heavy Bombardment. The gas giants were still sorting themselves out in the outer solar system; Neptune may have been closer to the Sun than Uranus, and there may have been a third ice giant as well.
In short, this happened a long time ago. We’re just seeing it now, because it takes a long time for light to travel to Earth from the cosmic distances of deep space. If we could be in that distant galaxy now, we might see an impressive nebula. We might see a stellar birthing factory, a giant cloud of gas and dust where new stars are born. There might even be new solar systems, filled with planets, born from the wreckage of this massive explosion.
Or there might not be anything at all worth seeing — pulsars, shattered planets, irradiated solar systems filled with dead planets.
The universe is immense, and even though the stars seems to be unchanging from year to year, the truth is, the stars are as lively and chaotic as anything in nature. The discovery of ASASSN-15lh reminds us of that.