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From stardust to stardust

'Twinkle twinkle little star / how I wonder what you are / Up above the world so high / like a diamond in the sky' is a nursery rhyme all those who attended pre-school English classes are familiar with.

How many of us have truly wondered as to what a star is? In all probability, we are more interested in, and familiar with, the stars of the mundane kind: the actors and actresses who play leading part in motion pictures, on stage, television, and so on; as well as anyone who shines in a calling or profession such as a literary star; or even a person of notoriety from politics.

I will not include the latter into the category of any kind of star, I would rather that they be considered as black holes. As to those self-luminous celestial bodies up above, and beyond, the Milky Way: that glowing band encircling the heavens; we mostly take them as things granted; acknowledge its presence; and admire its beauty; but rarely wonder as to what it is; where it is; what its origins are; and what it implies to us. Life has too many other mundane affairs to be concerned with, and to deal with.

Faith in stars

The only time we take any note of the stars is when we consult an astrologer to find out what the stars portend and foretell - whether they favour us or not. We trust the heavenly bodies as influencing our fate. We believe and have faith in the stars more than in ourselves.

We accept that the stars, or more correctly the planets and the only star that matters - the sun, holds our destiny and fortune. The star of any consequence in human astrology is the Sun, the rest being planets. Yet to all intents and purposes, we place our confidence in the stars.

This belief, in reality, may have a reason to it. It could be a gut feeling; a subconscious reaction to a fact, a truth, which most of us may not know; or if conversant with, care not about, nor not contemplated on. However, we have reasons to believe and look up to the stars to look kindly upon us.

We shall come, later in this article, to the cause why it might be that all humans tend to have an affinity for the stars. The stars are our mothers, though we know not whose children we are. Lacking in enlightenment, we take our biological mother to be the person who has given birth to us. The greater truth is that we all have descended from stars, and are born of stardust.

Difference

I suppose most of us are aware of the difference between a planet and a star. Hence, I will not dwell upon that. However, though we are alive to the distinction between the non-self luminous bodies that revolve around our sun as their centre of motion and which we call planets; and those self-luminous bodies that dot the sky, the stars; we seldom give thought to question: what is a star? We assume that anything in the sky which seem to blink and wink, flicker and glimmer, sparkle and twinkle, is a star.

In astronomy, a star is 'a massive sphere of self-luminous celestial body consisting of a mass of gas called plasma which is held together by its own gravity'. Like all things in the universe, stars too evolve into being - are born; have a time bound life dictated to by its inner structure; and die, in this instance by exploding. However, unlike humans, a star lives for billions of years. Towards the end of its lifetime, even before its demise, due to a complex process by which it exists, a star begins recycling a portion of its matter called as degenerate matter into the interstellar environment, where it will form a new generation of stars.

Genesis is at work

The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth. Other stars are visible from Earth during the night, when they are not obscured by atmospheric phenomena, and appear as a multitude of fixed luminous points because of their immense distance. Stars are not spread uniformly across the universe; but are normally grouped into galaxies along with interstellar gas and dust.

A typical galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars, and there are more than 100 billion galaxies in only the observable universe. A 2010 star count estimated 300 sextillion stars in the observable universe.

Confusing numbers

These numbers may be confusing to some readers, but they denote the immensity of our universe, the cosmos; which is thought to be approximately 14 billion years since it came into actuality.

The huge distances involved in the universe, the space between stars, amongst galaxies, is beyond imagination for the average reader. Our very own galaxy, the Milky Way, of which the Sun is a member, is believed to be 100,000 light years across - a light year being the distance light travels in a year at 186,282 miles, or 300,000 kilometres, per second. Mind boggling, is it not?

In keeping with the mass-energy equation of Einstein, which broadly means that matter, except under specially defined circumstances, can neither be created, nor destroyed; it can only change into other forms of matter and/or energy.

Hence, in theory, nothing dies and it only changes form, including us. When a star blows up in the process of dying, it emits stardust in all directions of the cosmos, apart from other energies. The blown-off outer layers of dying stars include heavy elements, which may be recycled during new star formation. These heavy elements are also the basic material for the formation of rocky planets such as the Earth and the Moon, and many others.

The outflow from supernova and the stellar wind of large stars play an important part in shaping the interstellar medium. A Supernova is the explosive death of a massive star whose energy output causes its expanding gases to glow brightly for weeks or months.

A supernova remnant is the glowing, expanding gaseous remains of a supernova explosion.

Thus, the death of a star mainly produces dust known as stardust; and other form of energies too. This stardust is the material from which all creation takes place, and believe in it or not, it includes us - all humans - as well. Hence, the surmise is that we are all children of stars. The Christians, during burial services say, 'from dust to dust'. It means that we come from dust; we return to dust.

Burial Service

It originated as 'Ashes to Ashes' when the dead were cremated. 'Ashes to Ashes' derives from the English Burial Service.

The text of that service is adapted from the Biblical text, Genesis 3:19 (King James Version): "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." However, had the fact that everything - and it has no exception - originated from stardust been known to man, then it would have been more appropriate to say, "from stardust to stardust".

Yes, we all return to stardust. This does not happen immediately or even soon after our death, but eventually.

In time, in around another five billion years, when the sun before its death expands and engulfs its world consisting of the earth, and other planets; destroying all that it gave life to; embracing all - us, the planets, the moons - into its fold, and eventually dies in a supernova explosion; then we return to our origins: to stardust. All creation is from stardust. Stars, planets, comets, all life including human beings, are all born of stardust. We are all children of stardust.

The entire universe - known and unknown - and all that it consists of, are all of common ancestry; affiliated and associated; connected and interconnected; joined and linked; by the bond of stardust.

Ignorant man, carelessly unmindful, showing folly, and unaware of this truth: that he is related to everything in his environment; kills each other, and destroys his surroundings and all else he could.

This he does, so that he may lead a better life, a richer life, than his neighbour; whereby, all what he achieves is, killing that which he is a part of and by extension, himself. The folly of fools has no limit.

 

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