We Are Star Stuff: an intriguing new periodic table

There are of course a great many periodic tables, organizing different information in different ways, but this one is a bit more sedate than most.  It leaves the elements exactly where we are used to seeing them.  It just replaces one bit of information with another — instead of color-coding elements by their class (halogens, rare earths, noble gasses, etc.), it color-codes them by their origin, and at once lays bare where all the things around us really come from. My one quibble is that this really doesn’t cover all the origins.  For instance, for simplicity it doesn’t indicate which elements can be formed by radioactive decay.  The helium we use to fill our party balloons is mostly formed by this process; it’s a daughter product from the natural decay of uranium.  And while the vast majority of helium was created in the Big Bang, it is also created in stars such as our own sun, which is busily converting hydrogen into helium as we speak.

But the chart is still reasonably accurate, and is an intriguing reminder of one special, almost magical thing: we are the stuff of the universe.  And the bulk of our structure, carbon, is literally starstuff.  The ash of dead stars, which had produced carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and more inside their cores through the process of nuclear fusion, until they were unable to sustain the reaction any longer and exploded, casting off layers of materials that would one day become rocks, planets, life forms, and eventually us.

It also makes me think of this lovely moment from Babylon 5, “A Distant Star”:

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Filed under Cool Stuff, Science, Space

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