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The stuff of stars, bits of George Washington and feeling stupid February 16, 2009

Filed under: Random Thoughts — LotusMama @ 8:53 am
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I’m someone who always likes to learn new things. I’m constantly sucking in information, finding out the newest ideas, the latest theories, the hows and whys of our world. I railed when Pluto was demoted from planet to “dwarf planet” and I cheered when I heard about “nanodiamonds” and their role in possibly curing cancer. I’m not out there following Science journals or taking in seminars at Cal-Tech, but I do keep my ear out for interesting stuff.

Unfortunately, such information can make me feel stupid. Case in point: we watched a new National Geographic series last night called “Known Universe”. It is amazing and anybody who has the National Geographic channel should try to catch it because it will blow your mind. The advances that scientists have made in learning about the universe in just the last few years are absolutely unreal. It’s the kind of information that makes you go “Wow, I am so stupid. There is no way I could study this stuff and come up with these kind of conclusions. Thank goodness there are smart people in the world.” I mean these people are colliding atoms, watching the flickering of stars to find new planets and calculating that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Earth, and I struggle to follow a recipe (that was 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, not 1 whole cup. Doh!)

Anynerd, it is a fabulous show, not to be missed. The best part of the episode we watched last night (Biggest and Smallest) is the information about where all the matter on Earth comes from. Every molecule of every tree, person, rock, coffee cup and pizza box comes from exploded stars. We – all of us, animals, plants, cars, orange juice, Tickle Me Elmo – owe our molecules to an ancient star that blew up and sent the building blocks of the universe to us. Now whether you believe in religion or not, the idea that everything around us and in us came from some long ago star is a pretty amazing, awe-inspiring idea. The lowliest piece of cardboard and biggest diamond in the world come from the same place. Talk about leveling the playing field. Nothing is above or below being made out of stars.

Did that bake your noodle? Yeah, me too. Here’s another tidbit that will make you wish you had paid closer attention in High School science class. Every molecule, every atom is continually recycled. There are no new atoms being created. Everything around us (as we know from the star stuff) has been here a reallllllllllly long time. So when you take a sip of water (as the show described), you are likely drinking in oxygen atoms that were swirling around in dinosaurs, in famous folks – perhaps George Washingon, Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt. (Wondered how I was going to get the Presidents’ Day reference in, weren’t you?)

So not only are we made of exploded star guts, but we’ve also trekked around in T-Rex and Old Hickory. Honestly, I can’t wrap my mind around this stuff. I won’t even attempt to share the amount of galaxies that are out there in the universe, the size of the big stars compared with our dinky sun or the real distance between our own “local” planets. All I can say is “I feel really stupid” and really grateful that there are people out there who devote their lives to finding out the science behind questions like “how did we get here” or “are there other worlds with life in the universe”. (Battlestar Galatica fans, Star Trekkies and other Sci-Fi followers – keep the faith.)

So on this Presidents’ Day, my mind is swirling in the cosmos and at the atomic level. I’m thinking about how important science is to our future and I’m grateful that our new president recognizes this. I’m also wishing I had been a better science and math student and that my teachers had inspired me the way this new series has done. And I’m also really grateful for smart people.