Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news about fascinating discoveries, scientific advances and more.
In its violent early years, Earth was a molten inferno that hurled the Moon after a fiery collision with another protoplanet, scientists now suspect. It then turned from a watery expanse into a giant snowball that wiped out nearly all life.
Then, hyper-hurricanes with waves reaching 90 meters high punched the newly thawed ocean. But that’s nothing compared to the celestial turmoil and fireworks of 9 billion years before our planet was born.
Science and history documentarian Dan Levitt’s forthcoming book “What’s Inside You: The Story of Your Body’s Atoms from the Big Bang to Last Night’s Dinner“It conjures up a series of striking and often powerful images as we trace how our cells, elements, atoms, and subatomic particles reach our brains, bones, and bodies. The book comes out January 24.
“We now know that the origin of the universe, the making of the elements in the stars, the creation of the solar system and Earth, and the early history of our planet were incredibly turbulent,” Levitt told CNN.
But almost incomprehensible explosions, collisions and temperatures were essential for life.
A disturbance in Jupiter’s orbitfor example, it may have sent a rain of asteroids to Earth and seeded the planet with water in the process. And the molten iron that makes up the Earth’s core, a magnetic field that protects us from cosmic rays.
“There’s been a lot of things that could have gone the other way,” Levitt said, “in which case we wouldn’t be here.”
He said that rebuilding our atoms’ epic step-by-step journey of billions of years fills him with awe and gratitude.
“Sometimes when I look at people, I think, ‘Wow, you guys are amazing organisms, and our atoms all share the same deep history that goes back to the big bang’.” He hopes readers will understand that “even the simplest cell is incredibly complex and deserves great respect.” And so are all humans.”
Our body contains up to 60 elementsIncluding the flood of hydrogen after the big bang and calcium formed by dying stars known as red giants. Levitt weaved together the turbulent history of the scientific process as he pieced together the evidence for how these and more complex organic molecules got to us.
It didn’t originally set out to align the turbulence in the universe with the turbulence in the scientific world, but it certainly came with the realm. “Since our great-grandparents were alive, a lot of scientific certainties have been broken,” he said. “That’s the fun part of the book.”
After Levitt had finished his first draft, he realized to his amazement that some of the scientific turmoil was due to recurrent prejudices of various kinds. “I wanted to get into the minds of the scientists who made great discoveries – to see their progress as it was and understand how they were received at the time,” he said. “I’m surprised that the initial reaction to groundbreaking theories is almost always skepticism and rejection.”
Throughout the book, he pointed out six recurring mental pitfalls that blind even bright minds, such as views that are “too weird to be true” or “if our current tools don’t detect it, it doesn’t exist.” ”
For example, Albert Einstein initially hated the idea of a strange expanding universe and had to be persuaded by others over time. Georges LemaitreA little-known but persistent Belgian priest and cosmologist. Stanley MillerMasterfully simulating Early Earth conditions in glass bottles, the “father of prebiotic chemistry” was a notorious opponent of the hypothesis that life might have evolved in the deep ocean fueled by mineral-rich enzymes and superheated chimneys. And so he.
Levitt writes in his book: “The history of science is replete with grand statements by old statesmen about certainties, and these will soon be reversed.” Fortunately, the history of science is also full of radicals and freethinkers who enjoy poking holes in these statements.
Levitt explained how many have been thrown forward by researchers who have never received due credit for their contributions. “I’m attracted to unsung heroes with dramatic stories that people haven’t heard before,” he said. “So I was pleased that many of the most gripping stories in the book were about people I didn’t know.”
They are scientists like Austrian researchers. Marietta Blauhelping physicists see some of the first signs of subatomic particles; Dutch physician and philosopher Jan Ingenhouszwho discovered that leaves exposed to sunlight can produce oxygen through photosynthesis; and chemist Rosalind FranklinThe person who was instrumental in deciphering the three-dimensional structure of DNA.
wonders of the universe
A lightning bolt of new ideas often arose independently all over the world. Levitt was surprised to find that multiple scientists were working on plausible scenarios for how the building blocks of life might have started to come together.
“Our universe is full of organic molecules — many of them precursors to the molecules that made us up,” he said. “So I oscillate between thinking it’s very unlikely that creatures like us exist, and thinking that life must exist in many parts of the universe.”
Still, nothing about our own journey from the big bang has been simple.
“If you tried to envision how life evolved from the first organic molecules, it would have to be a tumultuous process, full of twisty roads and failures,” Levitt said. “Most of them must have gone nowhere. But evolution has a way of creating winners from countless experiments over long periods of time.”
Nature also has a way of recycling building blocks to create new life. a nuclear physicist named Paul Aebersold Levitt found that “every one to two months we replace half of our carbon atoms, and we replace 98 percent of all our atoms each year.”
Like an ever-renovating house, we are constantly changing and replacing old parts with new ones: our water, our proteins, and even our cells, many of which we seem to replace every decade or so.
Eventually, our own cells will become silent, but parts of them will transform into other forms of life. “Although we may die, our atoms don’t,” writes Levitt. “They spin through life, earth, oceans, and sky on a chemical carousel.”
In other words, just like the death of stars, our own extinction opens up another world of extraordinary possibilities.
Leave a Comment