Field of Science

The Most Astounding Fact

We are part of this Universe, but perhaps more important is that the Universe is in us. You may have even heard it stated as a fact that we are made of stardust. What does this mean? Well in the early early Universe, a few minutes after the big bang, the Universe consisted of only hydrogen, helium, and a smidgen of lithium. There was no oxygen, carbon, or any other heavy elements. Complex life had to wait. It took hundreds of thousands of years for stars to form. Eventually in the cores of massive stars the atoms of which we exist were forged under massive pressure and heat through the process of fusion—the merging of lighter atoms to create heavier atoms. The key to unlocking those delicious elements was fantastic stellar explosions. We could say the stars died for us.

Humans are at least 60% water by mass (this is the most uncertain number here because after you drink a few beers this number quickly starts to change). Water is by mass is 11% hydrogen. Thus the mass of hydrogen in our body from water is at least 7% though of course there is lots of other hydrogen in our body from other molecules (lipids, amino acids, and so on). A better estimate is that we are 10% hydrogen by mass (if we do our accounting by number of atoms in the body we are 63% hydrogen atoms). Ultimately every atom in us is that is not hydrogen was forged in stars, and so 90% of the mass in our bodies is stardust.

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