Words in the News

stardust

Written by Liz Potter

The Guardian reported this week that computer simulations run by astronomers at Northwestern University have shown how material blasted out of galaxies when stars explode at the end of their lives can end up in larger neighbouring galaxies, such as our own Milky Way. One of the astronomers on the team, Claude-André Faucher-Giguère, said:

What we did not anticipate, and what’s the big surprise, is that about half of the atoms that end up in Milky Way-like galaxies come from other galaxies.

Galaxies were previously thought to grow primarily by absorbing material left over from the Big Bang, although it has been known for a long time that elements created inside stars can travel from one galaxy to another.



The only meaning for stardust given in Macmillan Dictionary – and many other dictionaries – refers to imaginary magical qualities or substances. The most common verb collocating with stardust in the enTenTen13 corpus is sprinkle, and sprinkling stardust is what celebrities are often said to do:

“Brigitte Bardot, Jane Russell, Elizabeth Taylor and a galaxy of stellar celebrities have sprinkled their stardust over the island.”

According to Wikipedia, stardust is a term used by those who study meteorites to refer to a type of cosmic dust called presolar grains (interstellar solid matter from a time before the Sun was formed). Another use is to refer to a hazy mass of distant stars in the night sky.

Given the latest scientific evidence, it seems that when Joni Mitchell sang ‘We are stardust/Billion year old carbon‘ back in 1970 she was speaking the literal truth.

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Liz Potter

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