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Stardust by John Gribbin

Gribbin discusses the idea that all of our known universe - everything we have ever been told of, observed directly, or postulated to be, has as a common ancestor the tiny remnants of stars which have lived their lives and exploded. The resulting stardust is responsible for the formation of heavier elements, for the development of molecules, the accretion of particles to form the asteroids, planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies...

Even the emergence of life must ultimately have come from this stardust, with the available elements coming together in the appropriate harsh environments to form increasingly complex molecules. We do not know how life was awoken from this fundamentally dead matter, but discussion of various theories and the application of statistical probabilities provides some interesting suggestions as to how it might have all come about.

Gribbin takes us all the way back to the Big Bang, and provides some history on how we came to develop these theories, including the initial nucleosynthesis of the lighter elements, and the secondary formation of the heavier elements. References to important scientific papers (e.g. the "Alpher, Bethe, Gamow" paper) lead the reader interested in this historical context into a vast expanse of discovery.