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Desert Diary
Physics/Star Stuff


Amidst all the focus on evolution, we sometimes forget that non-living things also evolve. Although the mechanisms are different, the evidence clearly shows that the earth, the solar system, even the universe itself have changed through time, have evolved. For example, cosmological theory plainly indicates that the early universe lacked all but the very lightest of chemical elements. Much of the stuff making up earth didn't exist at the beginning. The first of it was manufactured inside of the earliest stars. Only with the violent death throes of these stars were such elements as silica, iron, and carbon distributed out into space. Later generations of stars incorporated these elements and manufactured yet more to be released again in their own time.

When you look out over the desert with its minerals, it plants, and its animals—when you look at your fellow human beings—you are seeing what was literally made by stars. Next time you hear some Hollywood flack proclaim some new discovery as the stuff stars are made of, you'll know that he's telling the truth, however inadvertently!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

X-ray image of galaxy M83

X-ray image of galaxy M83. The central, nuclear region is enveloped by a 7 million degree Celsius gas cloud of carbon, neon, magnesium, silicon, and sulfur atoms. The brightness of this region is due largely to a burst of star formation. Photograph courtesy of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA-MSFC).