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Old 12-06-2010, 02:40 AM
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Default Stars: A lot more than points of light

I would like to take this time to thank and honor one of the most beautiful things in our universe. Stars. They fill the night sky with majestic patterns of shimmering brilliance. But they also reveal a lot more if you look hard enough.

Many people think of stars as nothing more than faint points of light in the night sky. A characteristic of the night sky of no real significance. Some of course feel that they are beautiful and enjoy looking at them. I just want to give my take on how important they really are.

Every star in the night sky is very similar to our own sun, although some are much larger, some smaller. They are massive spheres of superheated plasma that sustain themselves through nuclear fusion. The sun is so massive one million Earths could fit within it. And it is only a medium sized, common type of star. Our local star is a bit of an anomaly, many form pairs of two or more stars orbiting each other. Each star we see in the night sky could possibly have its own solar system and planets. To date astronomers have confirmed the existence of around 500 exosolar planets while only searching an area of less than 1% of our galaxy. And there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies. The stars in many of them gather together in the hundreds of billions to form what is (in my opinion) the most beautiful structure in the entire universe, a Grand Design Spiral Galaxy.

We probably can't even imagine what some of the planets out there are like. Right now all astronomers can tell is that they are simply there. I often think about worlds where the sun would be blue, because the planet could be orbiting a blue supergiant star like Rigel. And of course I have spent a considerable amount of time day dreaming about life on Pandora. I would bet my bottom dollar that there are exosolar moons out there somewhere that closely resembles it.

Next I would like to thank them for comprising the beautiful sight of the night sky. For forming patterns and views that have captured our imagination for thousands of years. For drawing out one of the greatest traits of the human spirit: curiosity. They show us that there is much more out there than just us and Earth. Seeing the night sky and truly understanding what you’re looking at is a humility and character building experience. They allow me to dream about what the possibilities are and let me separate myself from the ridiculous nature of human society right now.

Also there is this incredible fact the stars should be regarded for. After the universe was created (no religious debate here, although I believe the perfection of it all makes the answer obvious) the only element present was Hydrogen. Once the first stars formed they began to fuse the Hydrogen into Helium. Eventually, they began to fuse helium into heavier elements. The process created elements heavier and heavier all the way up to Iron, at which point the fusion reaction became endothermic and gravity won the battle that had waging for billions of years resulting in a supernova. The stars then shook the cosmos with an explosion of unimaginable energy, a supernova. At this point heavier elements than Iron formed. These heavy elements were blasted out into interstellar space at millions of miles an hour, seeding the cosmos with the necessary materials to later form more stars and planets.

Every element present on the Earth aside from Hydrogen was created in a star. The Carbon, Oxygen, and Nitrogen that comprises our bodies was initially created inside the core of a star or during its supernova. We are all made from star dust. It is possible that the heavy elements forming the organic molecules in your left hand originated from a different star than those in your right, billions of years ago. This knowledge gives me great joy and comfort because the stars which seem so infinitely far away are actually indirectly a lot closer. To quote an article by Gerald Grow "You and I are not merely separated from the galaxies by unimaginable immensities of space; we are also connected to them by unimaginable immensities of time."

One of the most incredible things I can think about is that supernovas billions of years ago seeded our universe with the elements that would eventually coalesce into a being; that is self aware and able to realize this and want to learn about what is out there outside of its direct existence.

Lastly I would like to thank our amazing local star, sol. It reliably supplies the Earth, the only location known to harbor life in the universe, with the perfect level solar energy it needs to sustain life and keep the planet warm enough for life. It has been shining for billions of years and it has kept on through all of the wars, politics, environmental destruction, and corporate domination of human civilization there; on its third closest terrestrial planet, that different pale blue dot.

So to wrap this up, without stars the matter and energy that are needed for Earthly life would not exist. There would not be a night sky visible to every human being on the Earth, that subtle hint of the seemingly infinite existence outside of our own. Because of all of this, I believe that the starry night sky is deserving of a lot more recognition and appreciation.

"Just as I have come from infinity, so I return to infinity,

between which events, for a little time, I came to celebrate that miracle which I could never fathom."

-Mary Jean Irion

"Why bother with reality when there's imagination?"
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