Home  

BBC Space Star Stuff

where it all began at the time the universe gave birth to the stars; it may be the stuff of life. I want to take you on a journey. It's a journey like no other. They call it a supernova, a power so bright it outshines entire galaxies. Billions of tons of star stuff hurtle outwards, into space. So look at a supernova and you're witnessing a moment of creation. Even with our most powerful telescopes, these power remain frustratingly distant. The best way to find out what happens when a star dies is up close and personal. We are now charging. To understand the moment of creation that happens when a star dies, you have to study the power. For millions of years, the entire universe was nothing but the single vast cloud of hydrogen gas created in the Big Bang. But within the cloud, something amazing was happening. Shock waves from the Big Bang were echoing through the cloud, making it billow and swirl. Huge whirlpools of hydrogen formed, sucking in the cloud that created them, spinning them tighter and faster to form huge balls of gas. And as they span, these enormous spheres got hotter and hotter until the moment came that changed the universe forever. The first-ever stars were born. But these stars alone are not enough to explain why we're here. What turned stars into us? Inside the nuclear furnace of every star there is an extraordinary process of creation. As I stand here in this silo and look up at the thermonuclear device 100 feet above... If it were to go off, I and everything in a ten-mile radius would be evaporated. But it's also likely that almost every element in the universe would be created. Just as inside stars hydrogen fuses to form helium, which fuses to form carbon, then nitrogen, then oxygen, silicon, iron... As I look around me, everything I see was once the inside of a star. Every atom came from inside of a star.


 
Video is loading ...
 
The Big Bang created the universe
The Big Bang created the universe
  The universe began with hydrogen who created the stars
The universe began with hydrogen who created the stars
  Powerful telescope
Powerful telescope
  Vast clouds of star stuff expanding though space
Vast clouds of star stuff expanding though space
 
And the stars created the elements we need for life: oxygen in the air, calcium in our bones. It all came from the stars, but how? If it was created there, how did it make our world? It's astonishing to think all the ingredients to make the Earth and every living thing were created inside stars. Every star is an immense factory churning out billions of tons of chemicals. There's a bright supernova once every hundred years or so in a galaxy. So you're pretty lucky if you see one in your own lifetime. We can see parts of a star. The heavy elements that could make a new planet some day are in this little dot down in the centre. The inside of a dying star is made up of layers, like the layers of an onion. The outer layers are the remnants of the gases that fuelled the star, mostly hydrogen. Deeper, there are layers of calcium, sulphur, carbon, and at its heart, a dense core of molten iron. Drake's tiny target is packed with these same layers - like a slice through a star. His aim is to see what happens when a star. Here, slowed down millions of times, is what his experiment reveals. The beautiful and precise motions that scatter the building blocks of life out into space. That power throws the elements that were formed in the star outwards into the galaxy. Some of them gather together and form other stars, solar systems, even planets, like the Earth. These images, captured by our most powerful telescopes, show the remains of these sharp events. Vast clouds of star stuff expanding though space, one of the most breathtaking sights in the universe. But there's a puzzle in these pictures. What could turn a cloud into rocks or water? What could turn a cloud into life? We've begun to piece the puzzle together. We've traced the process from the death of a star to the creation of new worlds. It has taken the most powerful telescopes and years of patient searching by hundreds of scientists. One of them is Professor Bob Kirshner. They call him the godfather of supernovas.     That's the actual new stuff. Over tens of thousands of years, that shrapnel from supernova gets mixed in with the gas between the stars, and that becomes the stuff which contracts under gravity to become new stars, new solar systems, and new planets. When you pick up a rock, you have a piece of the universe that was formed five or seven billion years ago. The silicon that makes up these bits of quartz were manufactured inside massive stars and blasted into the gas between the stars. But it's not just the rock - it's everything that you see in the Earth. In this countryside of Arizona you can see the beautiful mountains which are all formed out of elements that were manufactured a long time ago from generations of stars that blew up five or seven billion years ago. Over hundreds of thousands of years, countless supernovas spread and mingle. This is what they become: immense clouds made from ancient hydrogen gas mixed with the remains of long-dead stars. It's a stellar nursery, a place where new stars and new planets are born. This is the Eagle Nebula - a vast cloud of debris, the remains of an ancient power. At its heart, new stars and worlds are being created. These interstellar clouds are immense. Each one of these bright dots is a star, many of them much bigger than our own sun. It was in a place like this that our solar system was born. All the ingredients needed for the creation of everything are in here. It just takes a little time for them to come together. It's a dance that lasts millions of years. It starts when the gas and dust form microscopic clumps and it ends with new worlds. As the clumps get bigger, they start to stick together, too. They form clumps of clumps, always bigger, always heavier, and all swirling around each other. And at the centre of them all a vast cloud of gas and dust takes shape. A whirling ball of matter, sucking in everything. It grows bigger and bigger, hotter and hotter until a new generation of stars is born. And this one is our sun. The remaining gas and dust is blown away, leaving behind the planets.