Carbon-12 --Does Its Creation in Stars Suggest a Universe Fine-Tuned for Life? (Today's Most Popular)
Is the Universe fine-tuned for life? A team of physicists have looked at the conditions necessary to the formation of carbon and oxygen two elements in the universe that are the foundation of life as we currently know it. They’ve found that when it comes to supporting life, the universe leaves very little margin for error.
Both carbon and oxygen are produced when helium burns inside of giant red stars. Carbon-12, an essential element we’re all made of, can only form when three alpha particles, or helium-4 nuclei, combine in a very specific way. The key to formation is an excited state of carbon-12 known as the Hoyle state, and it has a very specific energy – measured at 379 keV (or 379,000 electron volts) above the energy of three alpha particles. Oxygen is produced by the combination of another alpha particle and carbon.
The international team -- Lee and German colleagues Evgeny Epelbaum, Hermann Krebs, Timo Laehde and Ulf-G. Meissner-- had previously confirmed the existence and structure of the Hoyle state with a numerical lattice that allowed the researchers to simulate how protons and neutrons interact. These protons and neutrons are made up of elementary particles called quarks. The light quark mass is one of the fundamental parameters of nature, and this mass affects particles’ energies.
In lattice calculations done at the Juelich Supercomputer Centre the physicists found that just a slight variation in the light quark mass will change the energy of the Hoyle state, and this in turn would affect the production of carbon and oxygen in such a way that life as we know it wouldn’t exist.carbon and oxygen production and the viability of carbon-based life.
In new lattice calculations done at the Juelich Supercomputer Center the physicists found that just a slight variation in the light quark mass will change the energy of the Hoyle state, and this in turn would affect the production of carbon and oxygen in such a way that life as we know it wouldn’t exist.
The researchers’ findings appear in Physical Review Letters.
The Daily Galaxy via North Carolina State University
Image credit: Dean Lee. Earth and Mercury images from NASA and http://www.physics.sfsu.edu/~lwilliam/sota/anth/anthropic_principle_index.html