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In its violent early years, Earth was a molten hell that ejected the Moon after a fiery collision with another protoplanet, scientists now suspect. Later on, it transformed from an expanse of water into a giant snow globe wiping out nearly all life in existence.
Then intense hurricanes with waves as high as 300 feet battered the newly thawed ocean. But this is nothing compared to the celestial turbulence and fireworks 9 billion years before the birth of our planet.
Dan Levitt’s forthcoming science and history documentary book,”What Happened to You: The Story of Your Body’s Atoms, from the Big Bang to Last Night’s Dinner,” a series of striking and often powerful images in tracing how our cells, elements, atoms, and subatomic particles found their way into our brains, bones, and bodies. The book was released on January 24.
“We now know that the origin of the universe, the formation of elements in stars, the creation of the solar system and Earth and the early history of our planet was incredibly turbulent,” Levitt told CNN.
Explosions, collisions, and almost incomprehensible temperatures were essential to life.
Disturbance in the orbit of JupiterFor example, it may have sent a shower of asteroids to Earth, dousing the planet with water in the process. He created the molten iron that makes up the Earth’s core A magnetic field that protects us from cosmic rays.
“So many things happened that could have gone another way, in which case we wouldn’t be here,” Levitt said.
Reconstructing the epic step-by-step journey of our atoms across billions of years, he said, had filled him with awe and gratitude.
“Sometimes when I look at people,” he said, “I think, ‘Wow, you are such incredible beings and all our atoms share the same deep history that goes back to the Big Bang.’” He hopes readers will realize “that even the simplest cell is incredibly complex and worth Much respect. And all people are.
Our bodies contain it 60 items or so, including the torrent of hydrogen released after the Big Bang and calcium from dying stars known as red giants. As Levitt pieced together the evidence of how they and more complex organic molecules got to us, he weaved into the turbulent history of the scientific process itself.
It didn’t initially set out to parallel the upheavals in the universe with upheavals in the scientific world, but it certainly came with the territory. “A lot of scientific facts have been dropped since our great-great-grandparents were alive,” he said. “That’s part of the fun of the book.”
After Leavitt finished his first draft, he realized to his surprise that part of the scientific turmoil was due to various kinds of recurring bias. He said, “I wanted to touch upon the chief scientists who had made great discoveries—to see what progress they had made as they did and to understand how they were received at the time.” “I was surprised that almost every time the initial reaction to the leading theories was skepticism and rejection.”
Throughout the book, he points out six recurring mental traps that blind even the brightest minds, such as the opinion that it is “too weird to be true” or “If our current tools don’t detect it, it doesn’t exist.”
Albert Einstein initially hated the outlandish idea of expanding the universe, for example, and had to be persuaded over time by George Lemaitrea little-known but ongoing Belgian priest and cosmologist. Stanley Miller, the “father of prebiotic chemistry” who brilliantly mimicked the conditions of early Earth in glass vials, was a fierce opponent of the hypothesis that life could evolve in the ocean depths, fueled by mineral-rich enzymes and superheating vents. and so on.
In his book, Levitt wrote, “The history of science is replete with grand pronouncements by great statesmen about the certainty that will soon be overturned.” Fortunately for us, the history of science is also littered with extremists and freethinkers who have delighted in poking holes in those pronouncements.
Levitt described the number of leaps and bounds made by researchers whose contributions did not receive due recognition. “I am drawn to little-known heroes with their dramatic stories that people have never heard,” he said. “Therefore, I was pleased that many of the most interesting stories in the book turned out to be about people I did not know about.”
They are scientists like the Austrian researcher Marietta Blau, which helped physicists see some of the first signs of subatomic particles; Dutch physician and philosopher Jan Engenhaus, who discovered that sunlit leaves can create oxygen via photosynthesis; And the pharmacist Rosalind Franklinwho was instrumental in establishing the three-dimensional structure of DNA.
wonders of the universe
The lightning spark of new ideas often strikes independently around the world. To his surprise, Levitt found that many scientists had come up with plausible scenarios for how the building blocks of life might begin to be assembled.
“Our universe is steeped in organic molecules — many of which are precursors to molecules we made,” he said. “So I alternate between thinking that beings like us are very unlikely to exist, and thinking that life must exist in many, many places in the universe.”
However, nothing on our journey from the Big Bang was clear cut.
“If you try to imagine how life evolved from the first organic molecules, it must have been a jerky process, full of winding paths and failures,” Levitt said. Most of them must have gone nowhere. But evolution has a way of creating winners from countless trials over long periods of time. ”
Nature also has a way of recycling building blocks to create new life. He’s called a nuclear physicist Paul Ebersold We discovered that we “exchange half of our carbon atoms every one to two months, and we exchange 98 percent of all of our atoms every year,” Levitt writes.
Like a house that is constantly undergoing renovation, we are constantly changing and replacing old parts with new ones: water, proteins and even cells, most of which we replace seemingly every decade.
Eventually, our cells will grow quietly, but their parts will come together in other forms of life. “Though we may die,” Levitt wrote, “our atoms do not.” “It spins through life, soil, oceans, and skies in a whirlpool of chemistry.”
In other words, just like the death of stars, our destruction opens up another wonderful world of possibilities.
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