Made of starstuff


“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.” – Carl Sagan




The Milky Way Galaxy from the Karakoram Range in Pakistan. Photo by Anne Dirkse.

Our galaxy (200,000 light years across) contains about 300 billion stars.

All stars are born from collapsing clouds of gas and dust called nebulae. Shown above, the Carina Nebula (7,500 l.y. away) contains some of the youngest and most luminous stars known in the Milky Way. Photo by NASA/ESA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

Dust is illuminated by light from the red supergiant star V838 Monocerotis (20,000 l.y. away).


UY Scuti (9,500 l.y. away) is the largest known star in the Milky Way. If placed at the center of the Solar System, this red supergiant would engulf the orbit of Jupiter. Its core is expected to collapse in a supernova explosion.


“The atoms that comprise life on earth, the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high-mass stars…

Explosion of planet or star

…these stars went unstable in their later years, exploding their guts into the galaxy and enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant that is about 1,000 years old.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars…


…We are made of starstuff.” – Carl Sagan

A supernova remnant in the Milky Way about 13,000 light years  from Earth.
SN 1572 is a supernova remnant that is about 450 years old.
The Jellyfish Nebula is a supernova remnant that is about 10,000 years old.
The Spaghetti Nebula (3,000 l.y. away) is a supernova remnant that is about 40,000 years old.

“We are part of this universe. We are in this universe. But perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us…

The Lobster Nebula (8,000 l.y. away).

…When I reflect on that fact, I look up. Many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big. But I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There is a level of connectivity.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Tarantula Nebula lies within the Large Magellanic Cloud (163,000 l.y. away), the largest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Photo by Joseph Brimacombe.
The Small Magellanic Cloud (197,000 l.y. away) is the third largest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.

Carl Sagan: “There is a [world] with four suns in the sky; two of them are so close together that they touch. [There is] a sun the size of the Earth—and made of diamond. There are atomic nuclei a few miles across which rotate thirty times a second. There are turbulent plasmas writhing with X- and gamma-rays from mighty stellar explosions. The universe is vast and awesome, and for the first time we are becoming a part of it.”


The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. This structure is 2.5 million l.y. away and contains about 1 trillion stars. It is expected to collide with the Milky Way in 3.5 billion years.

The Whirlpool galaxy (23 million l.y. away)
The Whirlpool galaxy (enlarged)
Hubble Mosaic of the Majestic Sombrero Galaxy
The Sombrero galaxy (28 million l.y. away)
NGC 2841 (46 million l.y. away)
A spiral snowflake
NGC 6814 (47 million l.y. away)
NGC 5907, an edge-on spiral galaxy about 53.5 million l.y. away.
NGC 1300 (61 million l.y. away)


IC 1101 (1 billion l.y. away) is one of the largest known galaxies. It spans 6 million l.y. and contains about 100 trillion stars. Image Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)


Every large galaxy, including the Milky Way, has a supermassive black hole at its center. The black hole of quasar H1821+643 is one of the largest, with an estimated mass of 30 billion Suns and a diameter 28 times the span of the Solar System.


The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field is an image of a region of space that is just one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky (smaller than a 1 mm by 1 mm square held 1 meter away). An estimated 10,000 galaxies are visible. Image source.


In a computer simulation of the cosmic web, galaxies form from gas (orange) that cluster along filaments of dark matter (blue). The region in this image spans about 350 million l.y.


The location of our own galaxy (red dot) on the fringes of the Laniakea Supercluster, our filament of the cosmic web. Along its major axis, this supercluster spans 520 million l.y.


“We are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically… That’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson


When you think about it, there is nothing more absurd than the fact that we exist. On the atomic scale, we are 99.999999999999% empty space. On the cosmic scale, we’re just an expanding field of energy.

Neurons in a mouse’s cerebellum.

Somehow, this energy has assembled itself into an entity capable of pondering its very existence.

Somehow, the Universe has become aware of itself.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 2.02.15 AM

“We humans have seen the atoms which constitute all of nature and the forces that sculpted this work. And we, who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the Cosmos, have begun to wonder about our origins. [We are] starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at last, consciousness arose. We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan


“Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.” – Albert Einstein

Next: So don’t stop.
Please read in the order presented in Contents.

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