Theme Thursday: Mineral   7 comments

Let’s talk about rock.  There are lots of different kinds of rock.  You’ve got this kind (jump to 2:51 for the payoff):

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.  I’m going to blow your mind with a nerdout.  From “Ask An Astronomer“:

Nuclear fusion in stars converts hydrogen into helium in all stars. In stars less massive than the Sun, this is the only reaction that takes place. In stars more massive than the Sun (but less massive than about 8 solar masses), further reactions that convert helium to carbon and oxygen take place in succesive stages of stellar evolution. In the very massive stars, the reaction chain continues to produce elements like silicon upto iron.

Elements higher than iron cannot be formed through fusion as one has to supply energy for the reaction to take place. However, we do see elements higher than iron around us. So how did these elements form? The answer is supernovae. In a supernova explosion, neutron capture reactions take place (this is not fusion), leading to the formation of heavy elements.

Supernovae are (literally) the bomb in a cosmic sense.  Here’s what the general area looks like after one of these bad mothers fires off (view from 21,000 light years, courtesy of the Hubble):

Type II supernovae are the engines of mineral creation.  Without this gigantic explosions, you can’t make silver, or palladium, or gold, or tin… anything with an atomic number bigger than 26 (that’s Fe, our buddy Iron).  We get about 1 supernova every 50 years in the Milky Way Galaxy.  One of these things goes kablooie, the resulting expansion cloud of debris expands for a couple hundred years, and then it takes about 10,000 years to cool off and mix with the surroundings.  Here’s the Crab Nebula, which is the cooling off remnant of a supernova:

Those stringy filiments?  There somewhere between 11,000 and 18,000 degrees Kelvin, or somewhere between 19,000 and 32,000 degrees Fahrenheit, for the Yank visitors.  The Crab still has some cooling off to do before the iron and silicon in those filiments can actually clump together into a rock, and the gas forms a star somewhere for that rock to orbit.  Another 4 or 5 billion years after *that*, you might just wind up with a little blue ball (if you can call a 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg ball “little”) orbiting a star at just the right distance to have liquid water, with some goofy alien life form typing away at whatever device it uses to post to its blogosphere about minerals.

Of course, you might not.  We don’t know how likely that actually is… but the Milky Way is BIG… 200 to 400 billion stars, spread out through a disk that’s 1,000 light years thick and 100,000 light years in diameter.  That’s a lot of dice rolling, and we know that at the absolute worst once in 13.2 billion years they came up all sixes and boom, a livable planet.  Anything sufficiently probable to occur once in 13.2 billion years will occur again at some point before the heat death of the universe.

But they probably won’t have their own Twisted Sister.

Rock on, baby.

P.S. -> for further mind blowing, I’ll share this with you, regarding our mineral buddy Carbon, courtesy of Steven Dutch, professor of Natural and Applied Sciences at University of Wisconsin, Green Bay:

Merely mentioning Christ in anything but the most rigidly traditional way rattles some people, but what follows is absolutely orthodox Christian theology. If Jesus was fully human, he ate, exhaled carbon dioxide, and had all the metabolic functions of a normal human being.

We can assume Jesus was a fairly small person in keeping with the general nutritional standards of the time. If he needed 1500 calories a day, and carbohydrates typically contain 6 calories a gram, then he ate about 250 grams of food a day, or about 90 kilograms a year, or about 3000 kilograms over the course of his life. Most biological material is about 18 per cent carbon, so about 500 kilograms of carbon passed through Jesus’ body during his lifetime.

The total biosphere contains about 1016 kilograms of carbon. After 2000 years we can assume that any carbon that passed through Jesus’ body has thoroughly spread through the biosphere (a great deal would have been exhaled as carbon dioxide). So the fraction of biosphere carbon that was once in Jesus’ body is 500/1016. If you weigh 50 kilograms, you contain about 9 kilograms of carbon or 4.5 x 1026 atoms of carbon. That means the number of carbon atoms in your body that were also in the body of Jesus are about 4.5 x 1026 x 500/1016 or 2 x 1013. The actual calculation is more complex because some carbon has become incorporated into rocks, dissolved in the sea, or is still in the atmosphere.

If this calculation makes you feel exalted, bear in mind that we could do exactly the same calculation, and get just about identical results, for Judas, Pontius Pilate, or Herod. In fact, we could do the same calculation for King David, Julius Caesar, Confucius or Buddha.

If Jesus ate 50 grams of food at the Last Supper, about 10 grams of that would have been carbon, or about 1/50,000 of his lifetime total consumption. So of the carbon atoms everyone shares with Christ, one in 50,000 is from the Last Supper. At any given time you have about 400 million carbon atoms in your body from the Last Supper.


Posted March 26, 2009 by padraic2112 in astronomy, science, Theme Thursday

7 responses to “Theme Thursday: Mineral

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  1. This photos are beautiful and the article absolutively nerdocious.

  2. wow! from twisted sister to the number of carbon atoms i have from the Last Supper. pics were grand and learned a lot! nerd out! lol.

  3. Hmmm does it make me a supernerd that none of that was news to me?

  4. Paddy, you are so smart.
    Your sister recommended I talk to you when my computer crashed, but I got some other “Nerd*” to look after it for me. I have a feeling you know what you’re talking about.

    *Nerds on Site.

  5. Well, you *are* a physicist, my friend. I’d be surprised if some of that *was* news to you.

  6. May we use your image of the crab nebula for our personal Christmas card?

    Yours truly ~
    Pat & Lisa

  7. Pat & Lisa ->

    I got that picture off of Wikipedia, and it is covered under a Creative Commons license. Use of the picture for a personal Christmas card would be acceptable use, unless you threw it up on CafePress and made money off of it 🙂

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