Wonders of the Universe is a science show hosted by Professor Brian Cox. Here are four things I learned while watching this four-part series:
“We are all star stuff.”
I’ve heard Sagan’s mantra for years, but I suppose I assumed that, in the way that the atoms in your body might have been in a gorilla’s tongue or a caveman’s foot, atoms from your body might have been inside a star. Wrong! The only way that carbon can possibly be made is in the death of a star, which means every single one of the billion billion billion carbon atoms inside you were created from a dying star.
Similarly, the only way gold can possibly be made is in a supernova–the death of a really big star. I figured gold was an arbitrary thing to which to assign value, but a supernova: how cool is that? It really is as rare as they’d have you believe. You can fit all the gold in the world into three Olympic swimming pools.
When a supernova happens, all the elements that are being forged get shot out into a nebula cloud. In this cloud, especially out toward the edges, is where new stars are born. Our sun and other stars in our galaxy formed out of a supernova.
Chemical makeup of the early universe
You know how when you look into the sky, you’re looking back in time? The further into the darkness you look, not only the farther away are you looking, but the further in time you are looking. We can see stars so far away that they are the first stars of the universe. Oddly, they are all the same color. While we have 92 known elements, each emitting a different color of light, there are no stars at the “edges of space/time” that aren’t red. This helps us to understand what the beginnings of the universe were made of, chemically.
100 trillion years after the universe began will be the end of the age of starlight. Eventually, even black holes will dissolve and there will be nothing left but photons cooling toward absolute zero. Cheery, eh?
The importance of gravity
Gravity is the reason the universe has an expiration date. Gravity is the reason Einstein said the universe is curved. You may not be able to visualize a curved universe, so this is what it means: There are some areas where matter is denser in the universe than other areas. Take for example a black hole–extremely dense. Space and time operate differently around the black hole because gravity is sucking everything toward it. Time, too, is altered. But it works on small scales, too. Even a speck of dust has a gravitational pull, even if it’s very small. The universe is curved around the speck of dust, too, just not as much as the black hole.
You can watch the full episodes for $2 each here.