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In its violent early years, Earth was a molten hellscape that produced a moon after a fiery collision with another protoplanet, scientists now suspect. It then turned from the watery expanse into a giant snowball that almost wiped out all existing life.
Then hyper hurricanes with waves as high as 300 feet hit the newly thawed ocean. But this is nothing compared to the chaos and fireworks in the sky 9 billion years before the birth of our planet.
Science and history documentarian Dan Levitt’s upcoming book, “What’s Into You: The Story of Your Body’s Atoms from Last Night’s Dinner to the Big Bang,” evokes a series of surprising and often powerful images to trace how our cells, elements, atoms, and subatomic particles find their way into our brains, bones, and bodies. The book comes out on January 24.
“We now know that the creation of the universe, the creation of elements in the stars, the creation of the solar system and the Earth, and the early history of our planet was incredibly messy,” Levitt told CNN.
Almost incomprehensible explosions, collisions and temperatures were essential to life.
Disturbance in Jupiter’s orbitfor example, it may have sent an asteroid shower onto Earth, dousing the planet with water in the process. And the molten iron that formed the core of the Earth was formed the magnetic field that shields us from cosmic rays.
“So many things happened that could have gone differently,” Levitt said, “and we wouldn’t be here.”
Retracing the epic step-by-step journey of our atoms over billions of years filled him with awe and gratitude, he said.
“Sometimes when I look at humans, I think, ‘Wow, what incredible organisms you are, and our atoms all share the same deep history going back to the big bang,'” he said. He hopes that readers will “understand that even the simplest cell is incredibly complex and worthy of great respect. All people are like that.”
Our body contains 60 or more itemsIncluding the flood of hydrogen created after the big bang and the calcium created by dying stars known as red giants. As Levitt gathered evidence of how they and more complex organic molecules got to us, he touched on the tumultuous history of the scientific process itself.
I hadn’t originally decided to parallel the turbulence in the universe with the upheavals in the scientific world, but it definitely came with the territory. “So many scientific certainties have been overturned since our great-grandfathers were alive. “That’s part of the fun of the book.”
After completing his first project, Levitt was surprised to realize that some of the confusion in science stems from various kinds of recurring biases. “I wanted to get inside the heads of the scientists who made the big discoveries—to see their progress as they saw it and understand how it was received at the time,” he said. “I was surprised that almost every time the initial reaction to groundbreaking theories was skepticism and dismissal.”
Throughout the book, he points out six recurring mental traps that blind even the brightest minds, such as “too strange to be true” or “if our current tools haven’t detected it, it doesn’t exist.” ”
Albert Einstein initially hated the idea of an expanding universe and had to be convinced over time. Georges Lemaitrea little-known but persistent Belgian priest and cosmologist. Stanley Miller, the “father of prebiotic chemistry,” who ingeniously simulated early Earth conditions in glass jars, was a notoriously fierce opponent of the hypothesis that life could have evolved in the deep ocean, fueled by mineral-rich enzymes and superheated winds. And where
“The history of science is full of grand pronouncements by elder statesmen about certainties that will soon be overturned,” Levitt writes in his book. Thankfully, our history of science is also full of radicals and free thinkers who enjoy poking holes in these reasonings.
Levitt described how many leaps forward were made by researchers who never received proper credit for their contributions. “I’m drawn to unknown heroes with dramatic stories that people haven’t heard before. “So I was delighted that many of the most moving stories in the book were about people I didn’t know.”
They are scientists like the Austrian researchers Marietta Blue, which helped physicists see some of the first signs of subatomic particles; Dutch physician and philosopher Jan Ingenhousz, who discovered that sunlit leaves can produce oxygen through photosynthesis; and chemist Rosalind Franklinwhich played an important role in the development of the three-dimensional structure of DNA.
Wonders of the universe
The lightning spark of new ideas often exploded independently around the world. To Levitt’s surprise, many scientists have developed plausible scenarios for how the building blocks of life could begin to assemble.
“Our universe is full of organic molecules—many of which are precursors to the molecules we make,” he said. “So I vacillate between thinking it’s highly unlikely that life like us exists and thinking there must be life in many parts of the universe.”
Nothing about our own journey from the big bang has been simple, though.
“If you try to imagine how life evolved from the first organic molecules, it must have been a rapid process full of twists and turns,” Levitt said. “A lot of them don’t have to go anywhere. But evolution has a way of creating winners over countless experiments over a long period of time.”
Nature also has a way of recycling building blocks to create new life. a nuclear physicist called Paul Aebersold Levitt writes that “we replace half of our carbon atoms every one to two months, and we replace fully 98 percent of all our atoms every year.”
Like a house under constant repair, we are constantly changing and replacing old parts with new ones: our water, our proteins, and even our cells, most of which we replace probably every decade.
Eventually, our own cells will die down, but their parts will recombine into other forms of life. “Even though we die,” Levitt writes, “our atoms don’t.” “They swirl in chemical festivity through life, land, oceans and skies.”
Like the death of stars, in other words, our own destruction opens up another remarkable world of possibilities.
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