Earth is the Most Exotic Place In The Universe

I’m often asked by students in my community education astronomy classes whether any new elements have been found in outer space unknown on Earth. The answer to the question is no – nature uses the same 98 natural elements to fashion everything from the familiar stars and planets to those in the farthest galaxies we can see. Outside of an occasional compound or mineral, Earth is the place where you’ll find more exotic elements than anywhere else in the universe.

An element is a pure substance made of just one type of atom. What sets one element apart from another is the number of protons in the nuclei of its atoms. Any atom with six protons will always be carbon, 79 protons gold, 94 protons plutonium and 1 proton hydrogen. The proton number is also the element’s atomic number on the periodic table of elements. Elements in the table are arranged according to their atomic number.

Atoms are made of protons, neutrons and orbiting electrons. The number of protons in atom's nucleus makes it unique from all the others. Hydrogen, the simplest element, has one while carbon has six.
Atoms are made of protons, neutrons and orbiting electrons. The number of protons in atom’s nucleus makes it unique from all the others. Hydrogen, the simplest element, has one; carbon has six.

The two most common elements are hydrogen and helium, numbers 1 and 2 in the periodic table; together they make up 98% of all the visible matter in the universe. The remaining 2% includes everything else from lightweight lithium (number 3) all the way up to californium (98), the heaviest natural element found on Earth and in the stars. Californium is unstable and “decays” into simpler elements. Although scientists make it in the lab by bombarding berkelium (97) with neutrons, trace amounts of this very rare element are found naturally in rich uranium deposits.

When I was in high school studying chemistry, the periodic table of elements ended at Lawrencium (103). At present there are 118 elements, the most recent one created in the lab being ununoctium (you-nah-NOC-tee-um). Matter of fact, all the elements beyond 98 are artificial, brought to life in nuclear reactors or in particle accelerator experiments. They live very short lives. With so many positively-charged protons pushing against one another in their nuclei, these elements quickly break apart into simpler ones in a process called radioactive decay.

Artist's concept of the first stars in the Universe turning on some 200 million years after the Big Bang. These first suns were made of almost pure hydrogen and helium. They and later generations of stars cooked up the heavier elements from these simple ones. Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team
Artist’s concept of the first stars in the Universe turning on some 200 million years after the Big Bang. These first suns were made of almost pure hydrogen and helium. They and later generations cooked up heavier elements that were later incorporated into the sun and us. Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team

Back at the time of the Big Bang, when the universe sprang into existence, only the simplest elements – hydrogen, helium and trace amounts of lithium – were cooked up. You can’t build a planet from such fluffy stuff. It took the first generation of stars, which formed from these basic building blocks, to synthesize more complicated elements like carbon, oxygen, sulfur and the like via nuclear fusion in their cores.

When the stars exploded as supernovae, not only were these brand new elements blasted into space, but the enormous heat and pressure during the blast built even heavier elements like gold, copper, mercury and lead. All became incorporated in a second generation of stars. And a third.

The 2% of star-made elements, which include carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and silicon among others, went to build the planets and later became essential for life. We’re made of highly processed material you and I. The atoms of our beings have been in and out of the cores of several generations of stars. Think about this good and hard and you might just get in touch with your own “inner star”.

Common table salt is formed of tight-fitting atoms of sodium and chlorine. Each elements has its own individual character - one's a flammable metal (sodium), the other a dangerous gas. Put them together and you create a safe, tasty edible. Credit: Wikipedia
Common table salt is formed of tight-fitting atoms of sodium and chlorine. Each elements has its own individual character – one’s a flammable metal (sodium), the other a dangerous gas. Put them together and out comes a safe, tasty seasoning. Credit: Wikipedia

Let’s reframe the question about exotic materials in space not present on Earth. Instead of elements, if we look at compounds, we hit paydirt. A compound is also a pure substance but consists of two or more chemical elements joined together. Familiar compounds include water (two hydrogens joined to one oxygen) and salt (one sodium and one chlorine).

A selection of molecules (chemical compounds) including water found in the Orion Nebula detected by the Herschel Space Telescope. Credit: ESA, HEXOS and the HIFI Consortium E. Bergin
A selection of molecules (chemical compounds) including water found in the Orion Nebula detected by the Herschel Space Telescope. Credit: ESA, HEXOS and the HIFI Consortium E. Bergin

Astronomers have found about 220 compounds or molecules in outer space many of them with siblings on Earth but some alien. We don’t have to look far to find them since a few have been delivered right to our doorstep as rocky packages called meteorites.  Here’s a short list of new minerals that formed within asteroids (where meteorites originate) under conditions very different from those found on Earth:

Barringerite – a metallic compound made of iron, nickel and phosphorus
Oldhamite – brown mineral made of calcium, magnesium and sulfur
Kosmochlor  – green mineral containing calcium, chromium, silicon and oxygen

How about new stuff on planets and comets? Astronomers have discovered compounds in the atmospheres of the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune like silane (silicon-hydrogen), arsine (arsenic-hydrogen) and phosphine (phosphorus-hydrogen) that don’t exist naturally on Earth. Humans have created all three in the lab and put them to good use in various industries including the manufacture of semi-conductors.

Helium was first discovered in the spectrum of the sun by French astronomer Pierre Janssen in 1868 by observing sunlight through a prism during an eclipse. It was discovered on Earth in 1895. Credit: Bob King
Helium, the gas that floats our balloons, was first discovered in the spectrum of the sun by French astronomer Pierre Janssen in during a solar eclipse in 1868. Scientists finally found it on Earth in 1895. Click to learn the helium story. Credit: Bob King

And then there’s Brownleeite, a manganese silicide found in 2003 in a dust particle shed by comet 26P/Grigg-Skjellerup. Moving beyond the solar system, astronomers see unusual long-chained carbon molecules in space that couldn’t form on Earth because oxygen would tear them apart. Space is their safe haven.

So, Earth is the location in the Universe where you’ll find more exotic elements than anywhere else. Thanks to human activity and the complicated molecules that wound together to form life, Earth’s the most exotic place in the universe.

50 Replies to “Earth is the Most Exotic Place In The Universe”

  1. I dont agree.
    I think we cant reach that conclusion yet and research and exploration are needed.

    1. Yes, one knows…….yet. That “YET” will be hundreds of years in the future if not more…take care.

    2. If you mean that there are other equally exotic places (equally evolved biospheres and their compounds), that is most likely.

      I don’t read King as proposing exclusivity, just pointing out how exciting and complicated terrestrials inhabited by complex multicellular organisms are.

    3. Agreed. That is, has been, & will always be my whole point about the science’s. Much more research must be done in all disciplines. Dark matter & energy will be next to be explored by the LHC. No matter the subject, content or disciplines. We cannot ignore what we do not grasp. Even if its on the subject of the paranormal. You never know what you’ll find w/the impossible or its purpose. It all must be explored faithfully & honestly. …take care..

  2. Nothing in this article supports the title statement that Earth has the most exotic stuff, in fact it points out there are compounds on other celestial bodies in our star system which we can only duplicate in a lab after discovering them elsewhere. The only statement in the article that impliedly supports the conclusion of the article, that Earth is the only place in the universe that has so many elements, is that there are 20 artificially created elements on the periodic table. However, there is nothing in this article that demonstrates that these artificial elements, or elements with even higher numbers of protons, don’t exist elsewhere in the universe.

    A little over a century ago it was commonly accepted among scientists that all the major discoveries had already been made and there was little else to do but polish the details. Since then, there have been more scientific discoveries than in all of human history combined up to that point. To assume that we must have the most exotic elements in the whole universe simply because we have 20 more elements than we have observed in nature, is no less arrogant than the assumptions of those a century and a bit ago who believed science already had all the answers.

    1. Students of mine(night school)use this site besides myself. I allow them to say what they will w/respect to the model of the article. Although I do stray myself at times. I believe this earth is probably the best all around sheltered perfect master piece in our universe. Perfect in elements & perfectly made beings having the “free will” & the “mind” to make more elements. Incredible. From our moon to the liquid iron core to all the rest of earth & moon. Still mighty incredible. It took time to come to this point. It evolved. Had to be “created” in order to evolve. That is common sense. We human beings inherit this most precious rock. Are there more earths like ours w/a moon & all the etc’s..?? NO ONE KNOWS THAT FOR SURE. NO ONE. We have only seen 400 or so planets. Just a baby step like the moon landing.

      The paranormal is real. Closed minds are slow minds. Like a dead end street. Depends who you talk to, we all have an opinion. An opinion is like lungs, we all have at least one.The possibilities are endless in other disciplines of the paranormal. Something, someone, etc.. had to make this universe and all that is in it. The point of origin was the “big Bang or better said, the “Big Expansion”. Creation scientists say it was created, Naturalists do not. At death of the body, each one of us will know. Atheists/naturalists crack me up the most. They have the most arrogant minds possible. They act as if only a “naturalist scientist” can claim things to be so, then it is so. -“NOT”-. Playing “GOD” the “Creator” are we Naturalists? Today it is the Naturalists vs Creationists. I side w/the “Creationists”. BTW, ..I am NOT calling you an atheists..Just making a point. …take care Nate.

      1. “Me” wrote: “We have only seen 400 or so planets.”
        A lot more than that! More than double that, *so far!

        For the rest of your post, no offense, but it sounds like a load of crap, perhaps better suited at the Coast to Coast site?

      2. A lot more? More than double? WOW! …lol…You crack me up. I thought you were going to say 4 million. Big deal 800. Still baby baby baby steps. just a nano-micro dot in the sky. If you think 800 is a lot, no offense, but, I feel for your inner-IQ…lol. To imply Coast to Coast is a complete joke or Ancient Aliens etc’s.. are wrong. is wrong. Yes, they have their moments. It it is those 5% that are incredible! They are facts but people like you say different. If you cannot touch it or explain it, then it never happened? Have you ever pondered the vastness of this universe? Have you, ..TRULY? I have. But I came to the conclusion I cannot think that deeply. Unfathomable in fact. Take a good hard look & think/ponder. Clusters upon clusters upon clusters of galaxy’s. They say 100-billion galaxy’s. Those are ONLY what we can see! Add to your pondering the mind boggling 13.8 billion light years & growing universe. Ponder the “dimension(s)”. That is the key.

        All those professional people seeing UFO’s(5%’ers)? They are liers? They are professional airline pilots, police, air base commanders among others see & experience what they see are/is a figment of their imaginations? Oh. its a weather balloon? Swamp gas? …lol…Come on man. Think of the possibilities of what those many people are experiencing. No monies gained. Yet they put themselves out there. Our technology in visual optics to see them for their realness is not adapted yet. It will some day. How about people experiencing ‘near death’? What? Your calling them liers too? Then your calling me a lier. A lier I am not & neither are the others!!! If you have NOT see it, or experienced it, or been in those situations. Then PIPE-UP thy mouth! People like you w/out an open mind have slow minds. Inwardly blind! A dead end street. Nothing personal nor dis respectful either. But again. If you have not been there or done that…shut it!

        ..take care, but moist of all, God Bless you, …”ME”..

      3. I could only bear to read half of your post before my eyes rolled into the back of my skull.

        I’m skeptical that you have a night-school class and allow your students to use your “Me” moniker to make posts here…
        (If true, are they too lazy to make their own free Discqus account, or do you insist as a means to censor before the “post” button is clicked?
        ‘Way to inspire idependence in your “students”…”Teach”!)

        Instead, I believe you simply want an excuse for future ridiculous and outlandish posts “Me” will make.

        Your avatar will make it easy to spot which posts to skip!

      4. Are you ok? When peoples eyes roll in the back of their heads they pass out lack of oxygen. Funny how people like you have your brazen noses up in the air. sky. I bet you haven’t even looked into it at all. Yet you judge poorly. Remember, what goes round comes back round..

      5. PS: Your free to choose not to post/chat w/me or anyone else you choose not to. That is fair enough. Your age is showing through. Should I avoid you if you were lying on the street dying from a car accident/gun shot wound or the etc’s? All your needing is pressure to stop you from bleeding to death? I will do as you do & be as your being. Clue? I..take care.

      6. Have another toke? Your age is your issue. My teen years are from the 1960’s. On my worse day to your best. Your no match! Reguardless, ..God Bless & take care.

      7. Creationist trolling doesn’t merit a reply, we all now know the universe must be the result of a spontaneous process. (The zero energy universe of WMAP and Planck.) As I always note, this behavior makes very many deconverts from religion (see Dawkins’s Convert’s Corner), so is its own punishment.

        But “paranormal”? The LHC just completed the standard particles with the Higgs field. That means, WMAP and Planck aside, that we now know the few eV EM sector of biology is protected up to 100’s of GeV from significant physics. Eg we can have the haphazard cosmic ray, or a minuscule heating from DM hitting a nuclei now and then.

        But if it isn’t a biological mechanism (and as discussed here recently, organisms don’t do radio because it is too low energy), it isn’t happening. Or the vacuum, that allows every interaction unless explicitly forbidden by constraint, would not make it possible to predict QED interactions to 11 (eleven!) significant digits.

        No espers, no telekinesis, no telepathy, no prayer responses, no souls, no reincarnation, no astrology, et cetera. Never was and now known to never be. I don’t think we will see much more publications in this area, people will just say “yeah, nice unsubstantiated hypothesis, but what about LHC” and that should be the end of it academically.

        So the point you think you are making isn’t one. Really, the latest series of (icky religious!) diatribe reads as all Dunning-Kruger. I hear the first step in order to learn how to learn (and then hopefully getting science in a few years) can be a simple one, for example trying to learn how to cook. Being forced to make sense by punish-or-reward feedback is the crucial process. We will be waiting.

      8. It is a subject matter you cannot seem to handle nor express any sort of thought(s). Your one way. I know what your about. Know many like you. Known 3 to have apologized for what they disbelieved until it happened. The all were scientists. I am more of an engineer. Yes Tor, the paranormal. I also was like you in ways. Was 35 years ago when I experienced the most incredible thing. People view it in a different light in its different subject matter(s). Especially when they actually see it, & experience it! Your a pure naturalist. Clueless in things you cannot see or touch. I bet you, you haven’t looked into it. .take care.

      9. I always liked the way you say “trolling”. I smile when I see you say it to me or anyone for that matter. I went “trolling one day in the very sweet month of May”. I have to way 10 days or so more for that, but it’ll be here soon enough. When time fly’s, where does it go? Trolling to me is in a row boat as a kid, casting out a “red-devil lure”, & rowing until that fishing pole snaps. WHAM! A FISH! I got such a thrill from that. I did it for hours upon hours. Tor, your a good dude. You reply back no matter if you understand or not, or if it is one of my students. You give your best assessment anyways. I do not say it is one of the students too much. But for the most part, you usually reply ;-)… .Your a class act.
        I know you will cringe over this. But, …God Bless you anyways. ..take care.

      10. During my Near Death Experience in 1981. I became aware that there are multiple levels of ‘creators’.

        In subsequent years as my interest in Physics grew. I realize that everything we experience in our Universe is ‘scalable’.

        We know that DNA is a program for example

        The realization that an Intelligence was and is responsible for this. Our so called Universal creation and also realizing the enormous scale and the difference between our individual personage and the ” creators” makes the idea of a personable creator a ridiculous assumption.

      11. Like me, it was a revelation. What an incredible experience! It was as real as if we were standing together talking. I quite didn’t understand ‘all’ of your view. So what your saying is, …there is just one creator in many scales or many creators in all scales? A few nights I have a class of students young & older(18 to 65) in ages. They ‘all’ experienced NDE’s. All had various individual experiences. All were clinically dead for no less than 5 mins & no than 15. Without going into more detail. God Bless you for at least being honest & open. Most people in here are so closed minded & fear what others may think. I am very thick skinned. We all are born alone. We all will die alone. Alone I stand & could careless what most in here says. What they have not experienced, or cannot touch, or see. They judge. Get a clue all. This is all too real. …take care & blessings.

      12. While i do agree that we have a lot more to learn about the brain, i think it is you who is being close minded by instead of analyzing what lead to your awakening, you just say I know the truth and anybody who hasn’t experienced it can’t understand. Your brain is just a really complicated chemical reaction and can’t be trusted to conjure up the truth. This is why when things happen that we can’t be explained we use science to get answers not just pick your favorite answer your brain came up with. life is the real miracle here, not the ignorance blanket life thought of to throw over anything they don’t understand and proclaim god did it.

      13. I’ve been waiting for someone to say chemical’s in the brain for NDE’s. Well good for you. At least you came back to discuss it. Well its not chemicals. So when I was floating above my body, which was out cold, & I explained to “ALL” the Drs. exactly what I saw them doing. That was chemicals? …lol…lol.. 2 Drs. said to me, “I have lost count the patients I have who said that to me who factually explained what I was doing”. The number of Drs. is astronomical. Trust me, no chemical can do that, ..period.

        And yes, if you have not been there, experienced it, seen it, felt it, etc’s….yes, your clueless,..period. Completely clueless. Also, people who have seen/taped UFO’s are: Police, Firemen, Drs., Lawyers & the many ordinary non-professional people(s). Were their brains throwing out chemicals there too? I crack up when I hear that too! The nerve of some people! Especially scientists, the gov-people(Air-Force) & all who did NOT experience it. etc.. .
        Please, stop telling people what they experience. You sound like your in their Playing God are you? Sure looks that way! That is so laughable! Look at the facts w/out rushing to judgement(s).
        Also, NO, I am not closed minded. That is obserd. Far from it. I do NOT tell people what they are seeing. That is playing God! That is very disrespectful. Ego fools! Anyways, like I said before, ….good for you for being intelligent enough to at least chat w/out name calling. .take care Nick

      14. Troll? That is all you have for a response? Cannot answer it? Why? At least “Tor Larrson” answers. He’s got class. No matter what he will answer even if his ‘troll’ comment is useless. He will say what his scientific view is. Read his responses to me & “learn’ how to at least respond w/class. Really, the naturist-atheists have no views on things they cannot understand like you. No intelligent explanation but ‘troll’?? How educated. Well, youth is brain dead. I was brain dead once. So I must cut you slack there. ..take care.

      15. To all of your posts, you are the most incorrect, retarded, annoying, instigating person I believe I have ever seen that has tried to pass themselves off as educated. I am simply Stating This Truth don’t expect a reply, I am only 19 and I am immensely more mature than you are. I feel incredibly sorry for anyone whom you have wasted time for, myself included…….At this point I have read even more of your posts and I don’t even feel the need to post this as it all should already be implied to you.

      16. Glad to see your “EGO” is higher/further than the Voyager(s)space probes are. 19. Wish I was 19 again. I’d study the unknown science(s) that science refuses to fully research. Name calling? It is not a student it is “ME”. Be careful w/that ‘ego’ of yours. Be very careful. You could loose more than ego. Take care Corey.

      17. And thank you for taking a legitimate discussion forum and turning it into a big argument over nothing that is about the topic being discussed. We obviously need more like you.

      18. Call it in the “fringe”. You just cannot see it. I didn’t start anything. I never named called but responded w/their own foolish ignorance. I brought up the subject(s) that are for the most part are denied by the so called “establishment”. This is the first step. Opening the door. Actually I am teaching my students the realities of life. What I teach is one thing. But when I allow them to come here & see for themselves the hypocrisy when grown adults turn their attentions away from reality of things they feel is “far-out” or too freaky as I would say back in the 1960’s. Today the technology is getting closer & closer to the realities of what they want to ignore. The people like me who are on the fringe are getting threw the door. I am betting the topic(s)/subject(s) matter will bring us ‘all closer to truth’. At 19 your just a baby in the adult life. Choose wisely Corey, choose wisely. …take care Corey, God Bless.’

      19. Youth. It is so wonderful. I never threatened you. See, your age is the issue there. Most people over 40 in here knew what I was telling you. When your 27 & you talk to people in power & they catch you. Your ego will get you in trouble in 2 ways. 1st…you’ll never get a decent scientific job. And 2nd, ..if you do & you talk like this. You’ll be fired before you can blink your eyes. At my age, I am set. Thick skinned & words bounce off my inner walls w/no ill effect at all. Now, at your age I would of probably done the same thing. Your still brain dead. Its a guy thing. Remember, typed words have no expressions or tones of voice.
        ok, about Class? Do you really believe you had class cussing/swearing at me? Or saying I started a bad thing when I did not? Yes I rambled. That is how you get attention. Now did I get your attention? I sure did…lol. I never cussed @ you. You did to/at me. Step #1-never type/talk like that. Step #2-is walk softly & (w/no sticks)show no fear of your confidence in a subject matter etc.. . There’s more, but you should get the picture. So go to collage if your not there already. Grind & grind your way into a good scientific discipline. Also please, please look into one of the subject(s) I have interjected on this site. You will really benefit & help others as well. You’ll see. God Bless you Corey, ..take care.

      20. Wow, the more and more I read your posts, the more they drag out you saying essentially nothing, and the dumber you get!

      21. Dumber? An opinion is like a lung, we all have at least one.( i won’t be crude so lung a lung works). Told this before. Some are from students. But 80% are from me(“ME”). Just making a point. It is not discussed, it is name calling like your doing w/just one honest reply by some one who has been there & done that. Like you, 99% have “NO” intelligent reply but name calling. If you have some thing to say. Say it w/class. Tor Larrson can. He starts out w/saying Trolls do not need a response but gives a great one. …take care.

      22. Took 4 different times to type “ME” a troll? How many times does it take you to make any sense? Answer: Too many! How intelligent.

    2. I am not sure about the word most, but this planet is probably one of the more complex and unique regions in the universe.


    3. The point of the article (which I agree makes an illogical jump in the end) is that these things are now well observed.

      We don’t need “arrogance” or “assumptions” for that, on the contrary.

  3. On the other hand, a great number of all possible compounds, organic and inorganic, are precluded on this planet by the presence of an oxygen atmosphere. The apparent diversity we see is really just what survived the crucible of our ambiant atmosphere. I would be surprised if we didn’t find some pretty exotic and unexpected compounds on places like Titan.

  4. I have found Hazen’s mineral evolution as a time saving proxy for describing chemical evolution of the universe when presenting astrobiology [it happens], eg . Nucleosynthesis, star evolution, the early hot planetary disk minerals, the water chemistry of asteroids, the differentiation of planetoids and the evolution of the biosphere are nicely encapsulated without much detail except mentioning heat and increasing water (and organic) chemistry.

    Another exotic feature of Earth I heard of is its water run off, since our soils are regulated so that the water collection and its eroding effects are managed so that life gets the most out of it. Presumably, nowhere else will you see a water table with serially convergent and U-shaped waterways.

    1. Andy, ..How come you cannot see that 1 planet revolving around its star 13.8 billion light years away? Wait a sec. Here, ..try my glasses…lol. I cannot say that, & I am a creationist. Yes, we have one remarable planet w/a moon to balance out our earth. You, I, or anyone else or any T-scope on planet earth cannot see that far & detect every planet out there. Although I can appreciate the article…take care

  5. AND THEN… there’s anti matter! Are there as many antimatter elements as there are ‘normal’ matter elements?

  6. Idiot? Funny how its so easy to type. But said face to face? Not man enough. Either debate it or pipe up!

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