back to article Boffins find proof that yes, Carl Sagan and Joni Mitchell were right, we really are all made up of star stuff

Everything in the Solar System, from the massive hot burning Sun to the blue ice giant Neptune and all asteroids and bits of dust and rock in between and beyond, are made from dead, leftover stardust. Now, a team of researchers from ETH Zurich, Switzerland and Konkoly Observatory, Hungary have managed to trace some of that …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "[Palladium] is easily destroyed by heat"

    What kind of heat are we talking about, the heat at the center of a red giant where palladium is formed ?

    Because what palladium we have mined and refined around here has been smelted, if I'm not mistaken, so it can easily hold up under several hundred degrees of heat at least.

    If palladium can be destroyed by the heat of where it is created, how can there be any that exist out here ?

    I'm confused now.

    1. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: "[Palladium] is easily destroyed by heat"

      Yeah, saying it's "destroyed" is rather misleading. The important part is the quote following that:

      "Palladium is slightly more volatile than the other elements measured. As a result, less of it condensed into dust around these stars, and therefore there is less palladium from stardust in the meteorites we studied"

      Essentially, palladium has a lower boiling point than the other elements they were looking at, so there tends to be less of it stuck in the dust that ultimately forms into planets and asteroids. Looking at the abstract (unfortunately the paper is behind a paywall), the destruction part is actually about the dust itself - dust floating around interstellar space evaporates when it gets too close to a star.

      I think the article also has the conclusion backwards. It's not that dust from supernovae gets destroyed while dust from giant stars survives, but the exact opposite - giant stars produce less of the heavy elements and more lighter ones (palladium here being considered relatively light). When the dust arrives near the Sun, the lighter elements boil off while the heavier ones remain stuck in the dust, leading to large variations in the amounts of light elements depending on where you look, but not much variation in the heavier ones.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Thank you for clearing that up for me.

    2. Bilious

      Re: "[Palladium] is easily destroyed by heat"

      Number 46, palladium has its boiling point at 2963 degrees Celsius. Number 45, rhodium, has 3695. Number 44, ruthenium, has 4147. But number 47, silver, boils at 2262.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: "[Palladium] is easily destroyed by heat"

        In vacuo?

        1. Jim Birch

          Re: "[Palladium] is easily destroyed by heat"

          I left my palladium out of the fridge and it converted to a smelly carbon compound.

  2. simonb_london

    Not right about everything

    Joni Mitchel went on to claim that we were also "golden". Last I checked we all a variety of colours but none of them gold.

    She also asserted that we had to find our way back to the garden. This is potentially offensive to anyone living in a block of flats.

    1. Alister

      Re: Not right about everything

      "find our way back to the window box" didn't scan

    2. Jedit Silver badge

      Re: Not right about everything

      Joni Mitchell has claimed to be a lot of things in her time, including but not restricted to a man (both a free one in Paris and a black one), a radio and a wildwood flower. I suggest you let it go.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I suggest you let it go.

        Let it go?

        1. A K Stiles

          Re: I suggest you let it go.

          Don't hold them back any more

    3. charlieboywoof

      Re: Not right about everything

      And the folks who stuck up Washington

    4. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Re: Not right about everything

      Makes a change from the usual "Earth will be destroyed and we are stuffed" - Big Yellow Taxidermist.

    5. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Not right about everything

      She just meant we were out of beta.

      This claim may have been premature.

  3. Nano nano


    Palladium might be driven off, but it's not "destroyed " in any sense.

    Choose a better word.

  4. Nano nano

    Dust grains

    Go back, reread the original, and rewrite the article, the sense is completely wrong, and palladium is not "destroyed "

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: Dust grains

      Just boiled off then.

  5. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    It's better described by the Jefferson Airplane

    You are the crown of creation,

    And you've got no place to go.

    Soon you'll attain the stability you strive for,

    In the only way that it's granted:

    In a place among the fossils of our time.

  6. old_IT_guy


    The author appears not to understand the subject enough to write clearly about it, which is curious because Reg writers nearly always do - I wonder if this escaped some form of proof reading by a colleague?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All or nothing logic

    Heat isn't evenly distributed, it isn't a perfectly distributed smooth form of energy. It's a noisy random motion at atomic and subatomic levels.

    Which means the conditions to make palladium also exist at temperatures way below stars, just far more rare with far lower probabilities.

    But the probability is never zero, so the conditions needed to make any atom is never zero.

    So you'd expect colder bodies like meteorites to have less Palladium than warmer bodies like earth traveling around a warm sun, and you'd expect those conditions to be far more even.

    Inside you, somewhere there are a few atom moving as though it was 100,000 kelvin, and there are a few barely moving as though they are ~zero kelvin.

    And every so often *you* make a new atom.

    It is not an all or nothing thing.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: All or nothing logic

      Hey, can I borrow a fiver? There's a 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% chance that I'll pay it back, but it's not an 'all or nothing' thing right?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All or nothing logic

      Another way of looking at it.

      The mechanism that makes carbon 14 from nitrogen for example is well understood. There wouldn't be such a large variation of C14 if there was less cosmic rays or less nitrogen. There wouldn't be as much C14 is the earth was a small meteor popsicle arriving in from space. There would be more uniformity and less variations.

      You think its true of Nitrogen to C14 but not true of other atoms?

      The barrier to forming an atom isn't the difference between the initial energy and end energy, its the peak in the middle. This is true for Nitrogen to C14 and for everything above Iron too. You cannot assume that things above iron can only be made in stars based on some aggregate measure of overall energy called 'temperature'.

      Nothing I'm saying here is controversial. It just doesn't make for classic smooth-rock lyrics.

    3. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: All or nothing logic

      > the conditions to make palladium also exist at temperatures way below stars

      It has actually nothing to do with temperature (at least not directly), it's just neutron capture (r-process and s-process, rapid and slow neutron capture).

      The catch is that neutron capture is tricky, you need your nucleus to capture enough neutrons before the intermediary isotopes decay back into something lighter. It's like climbing up an escalator going down.

      So, theoretically, while it can happen at any temperature, you need to be near something shedding loads of neutrons, and that would usually be a star fusing stuff into other stuff, and they tend to get quite hot doing so.

      Given neutron capture is the only way to create some out of lighter elements, one can say (statistically almost) all palladium was created inside a star's furnace and then scattered around after the star's death. That freak palladium atom that formed in your sofa's cushion because of that uranium rod you brought back from the nuclear power plant you work at is a statistically insignificant exception...

    4. Wzrd1

      Re: All or nothing logic

      It isn't the atoms, it's the slow neutron capture that creates Palladium.

      Then, it became a matter of what volatile element settled down first, based upon temperature of the molecular cloud at various locations.

  8. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    Everything in the Solar System, from the massive hot burning Sun to the blue ice giant Neptune and all asteroids and bits of dust and rock in between and beyond, are made from dead, leftover stardust.

    Most of the hydrogen (and helium) kicking round the solar system will be from the big bang - as it is in general for the interstellar medium. It's true no supernova fuses all its hydrogen, and stars and planets shed protons like a Christmas tree sheds pine needles. But that's a small addition to the stuff that has never been incorporated into a star.

  9. Ian Michael Gumby

    I claim the right to the name starchild

    Ok, so Marvel beat me to it

    1. BoldMan

      Re: I claim the right to the name starchild

      Or Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: I claim the right to the name starchild

        Latecomers. Google Books finds "Star-Child" in the 1861 Pictures and Flowers for Child-lovers. and Oscar Wilde used it in A House of Pomegranates in 1906. Which also, curiously, features an artificially-intelligent computer, though it's named ALPHONSE.

        Also, apparently, someone named "Star Child" was acquitted of murder in Canada in 1879. This was before Florida invented Florida Man, so Canada's Crazy Person export industry was still thriving.

        The earliest unhyphenated "Starchild" I could find was 1909, in a poem (author unknown) published in Unity, the cleverly-named journal of the Unity Tract Society. Though Wilde's "Star-Child" appears to be set as "StarChild" in some editions, so we might give him precedence.

    2. Rich 11

      Re: I claim the right to the name starchild

      And then there's the really cheesy deus ex machina.

  10. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    M. Schönbächler But the dust from red giants survived stuck around longer. That allowed it to accumulate on Earth, the researchers believed. “This allows us to explain why the Earth has the largest enrichment of stardust from red giant stars compared to other bodies in the Solar System” she added.

    Is so much known about the geology of Mercury, Venus & Mars that she can confidently make this statement?

  11. pyite42

    Don't forget about Moby

    We're all made of stars.

    1. Slow Joe Crow

      Re: Don't forget about Moby

      That was my first reaction too

  12. Christopher Lane

    My God...

    ...I'm full of stars!

  13. Blackjack Silver badge

    You know...

    Ia can imagine several otherwise awesome moments ruined thanks to this information.

    "Oh My God! It's made of stars!"

    "Dude, we are all made from stars."

    "Oh... whatever."

  14. gypsythief


    "...amount of palladium, a rare silvery heavy metal element that can only be forged via a stellar process, known as slow neutron capture."

    I think you'll find that pretty much any decent Dwarven blacksmith worth their salt can easily forge a +4 Vorpal Dwarven Axe of Smiting from just a few palladium ingo...

    ... oh, wait, sorry, wrong website. Carry on.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Correction:

      > silvery heavy metal

      Is that a cousin of glam rock?

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: Correction:

        No, just whatever Metallica are doing these days (the bald one excepted).

        1. Ken Shabby

          Re: Correction:

          Wuuld it be ironic if they their playing a bit rusty now?

  15. Tom Paine
    Thumb Up

    Sagan, Joni Mitchell...

    ...and Enter Shikari a few years back, though it's rather old news by now.

    Rather nice animation of the LHC making a black hole that eats the earth in the video though.

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