Everyone has a desire to connect with where their DNA originated from. Friday night discussions in the taproom circled around an upcoming vacation. The couple planned to follow the genetic signature revealed by their DNA test results. The journey to find our common origination source could go back even further. Let’s start at the very beginning. I heard it’s a very good place to start.
In the first few seconds of the Big Bang, the simplest atom, hydrogen, formed. Hydrogen atoms were the only element for nearly 300 million years. Hydrogen atoms begin to stick together, forming large clusters. As more and more hydrogen atoms joined the cluster, the internal temperature and pressure excited the particles to the extent that two hydrogen atoms crashed together in nuclear fusion. The protons of each hydrogen atom fused in the nuclei, forming a nucleus with two protons. Helium was born. This nuclear fusion released an astronomical amount of energy, converting some of the hydrogen mass into energy expressed as light, creating a star. Einstein’s shorthand for this process can be read as E=mc2.
Within the newborn star, nuclear fusion continued. Elements crashed together again and again, protons colliding into nuclei, combining to form more elements. Helium fused with hydrogen to form lithium, and on and on all the way up to iron, with 26 protons in its nuclei. At this moment, the star full of elements reached the end of its life and exploded in a supernova. The elements erupted forth in the form of stardust that traveled on stellar winds like little space dust bunnies, clumping together to form more stars. In all, 86 different elements are produced during the birth, life and death of stars.
All of these elements, these particles of stardust, make up the human body. There is oxygen in our lungs, carbon in our muscles, calcium in our bones, and iron in our blood. All of these elements were created inside a star before Earth was ever a twinkle in her daddy’s eye. Imagine, someone may have wished upon a star that you are made of.
This week of January is the perfect time of month for stargazing, if the skies are clear. The moon is positioned in between the earth and sun, showing us her dark side, and leaving only the light of the stars to reach our eyes at night.
Look directly north around 7:30 p.m. to see the Double Cluster of stars. These star clusters lie between the constellations of Perseus and Cassiopeia. The Double Cluster is visible by the naked eye in areas with little light pollution — like our own Methow Valley dark skies. In the northern sky this week, comet C/2017 T2 PanSTARRS will travel through the Cassiopeia constellation. With binoculars, the comet and perhaps its tail are dimly visible during the month of January. Peak visibility of the comet is during May 2020.
Preserving our dark skies allows us to see the very stars from whence we came, and connect with the basic elements that we all share. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”