How the Universe Made the Stuff That Made Us – Facts So Romantic

A Hubble Telescope image of the Homunculus Nebula, a cloud of material formed by nucleosynthesis in Eta Carinae. The star is spewing out the cloud as it nears the end of its life. Within a million years, it will likely go supernova and blast material out in a more dramatic and energetic explosion.ESA/NASA

When our Universe was in its infancy, the the only element it contained was hydrogen, the simplest one—not nearly enough by itself to create interesting things like planets and people. By the time things cooled sufficiently for the single proton in each hydrogen atom to pair with a negatively charged electron, about 92 percent of the atoms in the Universe were hydrogen. The rest had fused mostly into helium with traces of lithium and a few other light elements. At that time the Universe was too cold for other elements to form, and the cosmos entered a dark age lasting 380 million years.

As the Universe expanded and cooled, gravity began to take hold. Galaxies coalesced, and soon the first stars began to shine. At first this light was only due to the weight of a star itself: As a star collapses under…
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