Where did the Elements Come From?

The elements that make up our world and our selves, where do they come from? Sure there is plenty of Oxygen in the air, Silicon and Carbon are just lying around, and a bunch of other stuff can be found across our planet.  but where did they come from originally? We know that most of the elements are synthesized within stars, but which ones aren’t? Which ones are made in a lab?

Original source of the elements.

The Big Bang gave rise to the first elements Hydrogen and Helium, which eventually clumped together to form the first stars and star producing the heavier stuff.  Lithium, Beryllium, and Boron are an interesting lot, because they are not made in stars.  These three are produced through Cosmic Ray Spallation, which is like a natural particle collider.  Cosmic rays are protons accelerated to incredible speeds close to the speed of light, usually from supernova explosions or other high energy cosmic events.  The cosmic rays hit other nuclei of the matter between stars, and viola! You get these three light elements when the conditions are right.

Smaller stars, including our Sun, can form Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Silicon, and Neon, most of the basics for the Earth.  But Massive stars and supernova explosions are required to get the conditions just right for the production of pretty much everything else.

In the modern era, we have the technology to power massive particle colliders like CERN, producing elements that may have existed, but only for a short time in the incredible energies of the big bang at the beginning of the universe.  Recently, scientists have synthesized the elements that complete the eighth row of the periodic table, and are still going strong in producing heavier elements.

If we can find superheavy elements that are stable for a useable amount of time, we may be able to unlock materials with strange and incredibly useful properties that we have never dreamed of.  It’s much more the realm of science fiction than science fact to consider superheavy stable elements right now, but if the theory holds true it will only be a few decades before we know if it’s possible.

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