The Search for Life in the Universe

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Astrobiology refers to the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. This encompasses extraterrestrial life and life on Earth. Astrobiology is an ...
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Origin of Elements

Pp. 168-178 (11)

Arnold Hanslmeier


In this chapter we discuss how, when, and during which processes the chemical elements have been formed in the universe. A short review about the origin of the universe is given The most abundant chemical element in the universe is hydrogen. This was formed during the first phases of the Big Bang and all other elements such as He, Carbon, Oxygen were formed by thermonuclear reactions (expect elements heavier than Fe). These processes are discussed in the chapter on stellar evolution where a distinction has to be done between low mass and massive stars. Therefore, it took several generations of stars before the universe contained a certain amount of these elements so that solid planets and complex molecules could originate.

The main message of this chapter is that the chemical elements necessary for life are the products of thermonuclear reaction that took place in the center of stars (with few exceptions), so that we consist of stellar dust.


Universe: Origin; Primordial composition; stellar evolution; white dwarfs; red giants; neutron stars; black holes; supernovae; origin of elements; nucleosyntheis


Institute of Physics, Univ. Graz, Austria