Did you see this?
It’s a photograph of the oldest star in the Universe….or at least, the oldest one, the furthest away one, we’ve managed to see so far. It’s about 13 billion light years away and as the Universe is thought to be just over 13 billion years old, then the light from this star set off towards us just a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang (of course, not everyone agrees there ever was a Big Bang, and we haven’t managed to see just that far back yet BUT let’s just take the theory for real for now)
In the beginning, we think the first element to appear in the universe was Hydrogen, and the strange thing is not only did the energy and subatomic particles which predated Hydrogen not just scatter everywhere, and fill the universe evenly, but Hydrogen particles were brought together in the first stars (like the one in this photo). These stars are giant furnaces, and in their cores they fused Hydrogen particles into Helium ones.
And then there were two. Two kinds of elements.
What happened next?
The bigger the stars, the greater the fusion capacity and the bigger the elements they could manufacture by connecting them up together.
Here’s a diagram illustrating the next steps
Hydrogen fusion produces Helium; Helium fusion produces Carbon, Nitrogen and Oxygen; Carbon fusion produces Oxygen, Neon, Sodium and Magnesium; and so on with each level producing ever heavier elements…..Sulphur, Silicon, Phosphorus and all the other elements in the Periodic Table up to Iron.
Connecting elements together by fusion didn’t go any further than iron, and all the other natural elements in universe were produced by giant cosmological phenomena known as supernovae!
All of these elements scattered around the universe and the universe continued to connect them up, producing this -
And the connecting didn’t end there. The universe continued connecting the different elements together to create beautiful structures, like sand particles…..
…which when you look more closely look like this…
…and still the universe kept connecting everything to everything else to produce beautiful spirals of shells…
and…plants and creatures…..
My littlest grandchildren!
Just think! Over 6 billion human beings on this planet, the most complex, most connected phenomena the universe has ever created and every single one of us is unique – no two of us share the same DNA, the same fingerprints, the same irises, and certainly not the same two stories.
There IS a clear direction of travel in this story of the Universe – ever greater complexity, ever greater uniqueness, ever greater connectedness…….
I find that pretty thrilling actually!