Life And Death In The Universe

Keplers supernova

This post was inspired by a great astronomy article by the JPL. It shows images of the remains of a supernova that has exploded long ago, and left behind lots of material that is being used to form new stars.

All stars are massive spheres of hydrogen. They’re so large, their own mass and gravity cause them to collapse in on themselves, but the heat and energy that are radiated out balance this. So, usually, a star is stable. Its gravity pulls in, but the energy pushes out.

However, stars eventually run out of fuel, and this cause them to go through changes and eventually die. Smaller stars, like the sun, will swell into a red giant, and then fade into a long, cold death as a white dwarf. However, much larger stars have a more dramatic death called a supernova. In their case, the core of the star loses stability, and the star collapses briefly then explodes into a super-massive burst of energy and material. A supernova is the most powerful explosion in the universe. You can even see supernovae from other galaxies clearly. The light from a supernova is brighter than all the stars in that galaxy combined:

MCG +05-43-16 with SN 2007ck and SN 2007co Swift

But supernova aren’t just cool, they’re very important. Larger stars have much more complicated nuclear-fusion cores, so they create all kinds of elements that smaller stars cannot create easily. Then, when they explode, this material gets “recycled” into new stars, planets, etc.

So, all the material on Earth, including you and me, come from exploded supernovae in the distant past!

This constant cycle of arising and fading (or exploding) is a key theme in Buddhism (SN56.011 in the Pali Canon):

That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus of the group of five were glad, and they approved his words.

Now during this utterance, there arose in the venerable Kondañña the spotless, immaculate vision of the True Idea: “Whatever is subject to arising is all subject to cessation.”

If this constant arising and cessation happens on a galactic scale, imagine how much more often it happens in one’s life, and in one’s mind!

Namu Amida Butsu


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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