I. Introduction: Our Cosmic Connection to the Elements|
The chemical elements are all around us, and are part of us. The composition of the Earth, and the chemistry that governs the Earth and its biology are rooted in these elements.
The elements have their ultimate origins in cosmic events. Further, different elements come from a variety of different events. So the elements that make up life itself reflect a variety of events that take place in the Universe. The hydrogen found in water and hydrocarbons was formed in the moments after the Big Bang. Carbon, the basis for all terrestrial life, was formed in small stars. Elements of lower abundance in living organisms but essential to our biology, such as calcium and iron, were formed in large stars. Heavier elements important to our environment, such as gold, were formed in the explosive power of supernovae. And light elements used in our technology were formed via cosmic rays. The solar nebula, from which our solar system was formed, was seeded with these elements, and they were present at the Earth's formation. Our very existence is connected to these elements, and to their cosmic origin.
"To make an apple pie from scratch,
you must first invent the universe."
Figure 1: The Periodic Table of the Elements, coded according to the dominant processes which produce the elements. (Click on image for larger version.)
Download a pdf version.