Friday, April 11, 2008

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Hydrogen & Helium

There they sit, far out in the sky, at distances we can’t even imagine. Huge balls of fusion, hydrogen changing over into helium, twinkling in earth’s atmosphere, making up constellations even though the individual stars are nowhere near each other.

Nowhere near each other? That’s putting it mildly; they are separated to such a degree that their pattern would not exist if viewed from anywhere else but here.

So there they hang, hundreds of billions in our galaxy, where we go about out business somewhere in the vicinity of 2/3 out from the center. We are definitely not on Main Street; we’re not in the ‘burbs; we are, ladies and gentlemen, in the galactic sticks. If there really were little green people coming here in their flying saucers, it would be just a Sunday afternoon trip to the countryside checking out the hicks on the blue planet.

I almost forgot to mention: we are but one of, maybe, 300 billion galaxies. Give or take. The people who keep note of these things realized a couple years ago that they somehow sort of missed two million galaxies in one part of the sky. Add them in to the whole pile and that’s a lot of stars, a lot of hydrogen burning as it changes to helium.

And when all that “H” fuses into “He,” the star can do one of two things, maybe more. It can expand and become a gas giant, incinerating all the planets closest to it (in our case, us), or it can kind of blow up big time, as a supernova, and take everything nearby with it. A star did that 7.5 billion years ago; we just saw the light last week, it was that far away.


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