December 15, 2022
Bits of the stars are all around us, and in us, too. About half of the abundance of elements heavier than iron originates in some of the most violent explosions in the cosmos. As the universe churns and new stars and planets form out of old gas and dust, these elements eventually make their way to Earth and other worlds. After 3.7 billion years of evolution on our planet, humans and many other species have come to rely on them in our bodies and our lives. Iodine, for instance, is a component of hormones we need to control our brain development and regulate our metabolism. Ocean microplankton called Acantharea use the element strontium to create intricate mineral skeletons. Gallium is critical for the chips in our smartphones and our laptop screens. And the mirrors of the JWST are gilded with gold, an element useful for its unreactive nature and ability to reflect infrared light (not to mention its popularity in jewelry).