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.
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
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
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.
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.