Roughly 97 percent of the atoms in the human body were created in a star, according to a new study.
Astronomers identified crucial elements for life on Earth, often called the building blocks of life, in a huge sample of 150,000 stars. They found carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur in these stars using spectroscopy; as each element emits a distinct wavelengths of light from the star.
“For the first time, we can now study the distribution of elements across our Galaxy,” Dr. Sten Hasselquist, an astronomers at New Mexico State University who was involved in the research, said in a press statement. “The elements we measure include the atoms that make up 97% of the mass of the human body.”
Researchers found that stars on the outskirts of the galaxy have fewer heavy elements required for life’s building blocks, such as oxygen, than those in more central regions of the galaxy. Humans are 65 percent oxygen by mass, but oxygen makes up less than 1 percent of the mass of all of elements in space. Heavier elements like oxygen are originally formed in stars.
These heavier elements make up almost all of the human body by mass, meaning that the vast majority of atoms in every person was originally forged in a star.
“It’s a great human interest story that we are now able to map the abundance of all of the major elements found in the human body across hundreds of thousands of stars in our Milky Way,” Dr. Jennifer Johnson, a professor at Ohio State University who was involved in the research, said in a press statement. “This allows us to place constraints on when and where in our galaxy life had the required elements to evolve, a sort ‘temporal Galactic habitable zone.'”
The study was conducted using a spectrograph from the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment, with funding obtained from a philanthropic nonprofit organization which originally came from the former CEO of General Motors.
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