The astronomer and TV presenter of Cosmos Carl Sagan’s most quoted thought is, “We are made of starstuff.” Coming to that in a moment, first I quibble with his more quoted pronunciation of the words “billions and billions” for his discussion of how many stars there are. That isn’t quite accurate when talking about the cosmos because there are approximately 10 x 10²² visible stars and billions and billions would only be 10 to the eighteenth. I quickly grant that quibble is silly because he just meant a really lot.
But I have another quibble that is marginally more meaningful, concerning his quaint declaration that “We are made of starstuff.” He meant by that statement that the elements that form our bodies were created in the potent collapse-explosions of stars called supernovas. Those newly created elements, those with more neutrons and protons in their nucleus than helium, were formed in the compression of the collapse and blown out into interstellar space and over time were pulled back together by gravity to form new stars and planets, and eventually we living creatures.
The problem is that the most abundant atoms in our bodies are hydrogen atoms and not the hydrogen atoms destroyed to make the heavier elements. The hydrogen atoms in our sun, planet and bodies probably historically precede the supernovas and were formed earlier when the processes of the Big Bang had cooled enough for the subatomic particles to form into hydrogen atoms. My point is that most of the hydrogen in our bodies were formed at the cooling of the Big Bang and not in supernovas as Sagan implied.
Of course, we can’t see any of this in our personal experience … or can we? When we turn on an analog television set and are tuned to broadcast TV some of that white noise on screen and in the audio tone has been shown to come from the three-degree K temperature from the radiation from the glowing hot hydrogen being formed when it condenses out of subatomic matter. What we are “seeing” on TV is the representation of that energy that is released at the creation of hydrogen atoms 13.7 billion years ago. These hydrogen atoms are now in the H²O (water) in our living bodies probably there are others in some very distant place like a planet’s ocean and living creatures. The physical processes are probably identical there as here and so there could be sentient creatures there thinking these same thoughts right now. The mass of the hydrogen in stars was creating the pressure on the core and this hydrogen was also created at the Cosmic Background cooling off of the primordial matter. Hydrogen is destroyed in the stars that are forming supernovas and that hydrogen is surrounding the exploding core and is blown by the explosion back out into deep space. Thus, essentially all hydrogen was formed before the stars themselves.
I feel comfortable thinking about being part of the physical Universe.