“Stars, simply by accident, are giant factories. To see a star in action, let’s imagine I can split one in half. Just as in the soccer-ball star, the hydrogen atoms are fusing together, creating helium, which produces the star’s energy. But helium is slightly heavier than hydrogen, so it sinks to the center of the star. And now the helium atoms take center stage. As they fuse together, they produce even more energy and form yet another new element…Carbon…A vital building block of every living thing. The process repeats itself over and over, and the star becomes layered, like an onion…
The closer to the center, the heavier the elements, like neon, oxygen, and last of all, iron. Now things change. Iron doesn’t produce energy when it fuses, so the fire begins to go out. More and more iron builds up in the star’s core until almost all the remaining fuel runs out. Now gravity takes over and squashes the star in on itself. As its core gets more and more compressed, its temperature soars until it’s over 100 times hotter than the core of our own sun. Finally, the star collapses and explodes.
This is a supernova. The death of a star and the birth of something new. In these brief microseconds, a massive shock wave passes through the star. The blast is so powerful that it forces some of the iron to fuse into even heavier elements. And that’s how heavy elements, such as gold or platinum or lead, are made, forged in the heart of an exploding star.
So, if you have a gold ring, make sure you appreciate it. The metal was made in a blinding flash of light billions of years ago, the finale of the process that produced the elements all around us today.
It never ceases to amaze me that our bodies are constructed of the stuff of stars and that our hearts beat because of the energy given off as those materials are made.”