Weird Science: The true story of pocket change

Pocket change is an example of a secret history hidden within an everyday object.

In order for a penny to exist, the copper must journey through the galaxy for billions of years. Pocket change is an example of a secret history hidden within an everyday object. The journey begins more than 4 billion years ago, before the sun and earth existed.

Almost all objects and materials around you once were in the massive inferno of stars. Elements like carbon and oxygen are formed when intense pressure fuses atoms together. The oxygen in your lungs right now was forged in the center of stars that exploded long before the sun existed.

All stars eventually burn out. The largest are unimaginably powerful time bombs, they explode at the end of their life, and hurdle atoms into space. A supernova can release so much energy; a single exploding star can outshine billions within a galaxy for weeks.

Some expelled atoms settle around a new star which then must explode causing a ripple in space itself, and pressures intense enough to fuse heavier elements like those found in pocket change.
The remnants of dead stars float through space, potentially for billions of years, until gravity pulls dust together, forming the solar system in which we live. Eventually, life emerged on the third planet from the sun, and evolved long enough to name itself. Humans learned to manipulate the environment, and purify elements to form objects such as pennies and gold jewelry.

Not one star, but thousands must explode over billions of years and contribute some of their material to form earth. The atoms in your body are close to each other now, but they were once spread throughout the galaxy, light years apart in the vacuum of space and within the cores of stars.

Scientist Jill Tarter once said, “We, all of us, are what happens when a primordial mixture of hydrogen and helium evolves for so long, it begins to ask where it came from.” So the next time you see a copper penny, or a piece of gold jewelry, you will know of its secret history in ancient stars.


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