Monday, February 6, 2023

We are made of stars: the long journey from the “Big Bang” to the human body

(CNN) — In its violent early years, Earth was a molten inferno that ejected the Moon after a speedy collision with another protoplanet, scientists now suspect. Later, it went from a watery expanse into a giant snowball that extinguished almost all existing life.

Later, storm surges with waves up to 300 feet high stirred up the newly melted sea. But that’s nothing compared to the chaos and celestial fireworks of our planet’s birth 9 billion years ago.

Science and history documentarian Dan Leavitt’s forthcoming book, “What’s Got Into You: The Story of Your Body’s Atoms, From the Big Bang Through Last Night’s Dinner,” assembles a series of startling and often compelling images as it enters our lives. charts the path cells, elements, atoms and subatomic particles travel to reach our brains, bones and bodies. The book will go on sale on January 24.

Book By Dan Levitt &Quot;What'S Gotten Into You&Quot; Reconstructs The Journey Of Our Atoms Through Billions Of Years.

Dan Levitt’s book “What’s Got Into You” reconstructs the journey of our atoms through billions of years.

“We now know that the origin of the universe, the formation of the elements in stars, the formation of the solar system and Earth, and the early history of our planet was incredibly tumultuous,” Levitt told CNN.

However, explosions, collisions and almost incomparable temperatures were necessary for life.

Author Levitt Says He Was Attracted To The Unsung Heroes Of Science Who Never Got Their Due Recognition.

Author Levitt says he was attracted to the unsung heroes of science who never got their due recognition.

For example, a disturbance in Jupiter’s orbit may have sent a barrage of asteroids crashing into Earth, dousing the planet with water in the process. And the molten iron that makes up Earth’s core has created a magnetic field that shields us from cosmic rays.

“So many things happened that could have gone the other way,” Levitt said, “in which case we wouldn’t be here.”

Reconstructing the epic step-by-step journey of our atoms over billions of years, he said, filled him with wonder and gratitude.

“Sometimes when I look at people, I think, ‘Wow, these are wonderful creatures and all of our atoms share the same deep history that big Bang‘” he said. He hopes readers will recognize “that even the simplest cell is incredibly complex and deserving of great respect. And so are all the people.”

a stellar mystery

There are some 60 elements in our bodies, including a multitude of hydrogen. big Bang and calcium forged by dying stars known as red giants. As Leavitt pieces together the evidence for how these elements and more complex organic molecules got to us, he pieces together the tumultuous history of the scientific process.

At first, he didn’t intend to draw a parallel between the turbulence of the universe and change in the scientific world, but the truth is that it was something natural. “Many scientific certainties have been overturned since our great-grandfathers were alive,” he says. “It’s part of the grace of the book.”

When Levitt completed his first draft, he was surprised that some of the scientific fallacies were due to recurring biases of various kinds. “I wanted to get inside the heads of the scientists who made the great discoveries: to see their breakthroughs as they did and to understand how they were achieved at the time,” he said. “I was surprised that the initial reaction to revolutionary theories was almost always skepticism and rejection.”

Throughout the book, he points to six recurring mind traps that have blinded even the brightest minds, such as the idea that it is “too weird to be true” or that “if our current If the instruments haven’t detected it, then it doesn’t exist.”

For example, Albert Einstein initially hated the strange idea of ​​an expanding universe, and over time had to be persuaded by Georges Lemaître, a little-known but persistent Belgian priest and cosmologist. Stanley Miller, the “father of prebiotic chemistry,” who simply simulated conditions on the early Earth in glass vials, was strongly opposed to the hypothesis that life could have evolved in the deep sea, which was rich in minerals and vents. Loaded with rich enzymes. And so on.

Levitt writes in his book, “The history of science is littered with grandiose statements by aging politicians about certainties that would soon be overturned.” Luckily for us, the history of science is also littered with fanatics and libertarians who were more than happy to twist those claims.

creative destruction

Levitt describes how many leaps have been made by researchers who never received proper recognition for their contributions. “I’m drawn to unsung heroes with dramatic stories that people haven’t heard before,” he said. “So I’m glad that many of the most compelling stories in the book came from people I hadn’t heard of.”

These are scientists like Austrian researcher Marietta Blau, who helped physicists see some of the first signs of subatomic particles; Dutch physician and philosopher Jan Ingenhausen, who discovered that sunlit leaves could make oxygen through photosynthesis; and chemist Rosalind Franklin, who was instrumental in discovering the three-dimensional structure of DNA.

Bright sparks of new ideas usually bounce freely all over the world. To his surprise, Leavitt found that many scientists had come up with plausible hypotheses for how the building blocks of life might have begun to come together.

“Our universe is full of organic molecules, many of which are precursors to the molecules we are made of,” he explains. “So I alternate between thinking that it is highly improbable that beings like us exist and thinking that life must exist in many places in the universe.”

However, nothing about our journey big Bang It’s been simple.

“If we try to imagine how life evolved from the first organic molecules, it must have been a bumpy process, full of twists and turns and setbacks,” Levitt says. “Most of them should have gone nowhere. But evolution has a way of creating winners from countless experiments over a long period of time.”

Nature also has a way of recycling the building blocks to create new life. A nuclear physicist named Paul Ebersold found that “we replace half our carbon atoms every one to two months, and we replace 98% of all our atoms every year,” writes Levitt.

Like an ever-renovating house, we’re always changing and replacing old parts: our water, proteins and even cells, most of which we replace every decade.

Over time, our own cells will die off, but their parts will regrow into other forms of life. “Even if we die, our atoms are not,” Levitt writes. “They spin through life, soil, oceans and sky in a chemical carousel.”

In other words, like the death of stars, our own destruction opens up a more extraordinary world of possibilities.

Brian Nelson is an award-winning science writer and author of the book “Flush: The Remarkable Science of an Unlikely Treasure.” He lives in Seattle.

Nation World News Desk
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