The phrase “We are all made of stardust” has both a scientific and philosophical meaning, representing the fact that every living being on Earth is made up of remnants from stars and that all organisms share a common heritage. The elements in our bodies, from the carbon in our DNA to the calcium in our bones, were produced during the formation of stellar nurseries and the violent deaths of stars. This process gave rise to the building blocks of life and the Earth itself.
The universe began with a sea of hydrogen, helium, and a small amount of lithium. The first generation of stars formed from these elements, which fused in the extreme heat and pressure of a star’s core, creating new elements. Only hydrogen has existed since shortly after the Big Bang, while the other elements are the result of stellar activity.
Elements come from a variety of sources, including the Big Bang, dying low-mass stars, white dwarf supernovae, radioactive decay, cosmic ray collisions, dying high-mass stars, merging stars, and human-made sources.
Hydrogen and helium were generated after the Big Bang, while lithium, carbon, and nitrogen are produced from dying low-mass stars. Beryllium and boron are created as a result of cosmic ray collisions, and oxygen, fluorine, neon, sodium, magnesium, aluminum, silicon, phosphorus, chlorine, potassium, and scandium are made from dying high-mass stars.
Supernovae fling elements such as oxygen, magnesium, and potassium into space. These elements are essential for life and Earth’s formation. Calcium, zinc, manganese, and iron are produced as a result of supernovae occurring inside binary star systems.
Massive stars have a more violent fate than medium-mass stars. Most stars are balanced between the outward pressure created by nuclear fusion and the inward pull of gravity. When a massive star runs out of fuel and its nuclear processes die down, it gets crushed under its gravity. This results in a supernova explosion, which creates intense conditions that can generate even more elements.
Supernovae not only occur in massive stars but can also happen in binary or double-star systems. In these systems, a white dwarf often steals material from its companion, throwing everything off balance and leading to a cataclysmic supernova.
The beauty seen on Earth is a result of some of the most cataclysmic events in the cosmos. Neither life nor Earth would have formed without these events occurring in stellar factories.
NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will study these stellar explosions to find out what is speeding up the expansion of the universe. It will also help scientists learn more about how elements were created and distributed throughout galaxies and explore many other cosmic questions.
In 2006, NASA’s Stardust spacecraft brought tiny particles of interstellar dust that originated in distant stars, light-years away, back to Earth for study. This was the first stardust to ever be collected from space.
The phrase “We are all made of stardust” has both scientific and philosophical meanings. Stars have generated all the elements that makeup life and the Earth. Elements come from a variety of sources, and supernovae are responsible for flinging essential elements into space. The beauty of Earth is a result of cosmic events occurring in stellar factories. NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will help scientists learn more about how elements were created and distributed throughout galaxies and explore many other cosmic questions.