If we consider the simplest element known to science – the one proton, one electron Hydrogen atom – it is difficult to see how such a simple concept could ever be the ‘designer’ of an evolution of over a hundred different elements with all their various chemical properties and their vast number of isotopes that exist in our Universe. Further it is hard to see any way that a simple Hydrogen atom can be considered to possess the essential properties of Life, namely the ability to be born, feed itself, evolve and self-replicate (breed) and die.
At least that was the case before you finished reading this article!
Consider an innumerable quantity of said Hydrogen atoms as can be found floating in the ’emptiness’ of space.
The combined mass of these zillions of Hydrogen atoms result in a noticeable effect. Their combined gravity (requiring no other ‘external’ force) causes the cloud to develop more dense regions over time. This process is self-sustaining in that, the more tightly a quantity of these atoms group together, the stronger the gravitational pull combines to attract more and more atoms towards the Centre of Gravity of the region.
Eventually the mass of hydrogen can become so dense and massive that gravity forces the atoms into such a state that nuclear fusion can take place spontaneously. Allowing for a single very simple ‘external’ force of neutron radiation the process of fusion in the center of the ‘critical mass’ of hydrogen atoms (nucleii) allows a number of hydrogen isotopes and helium atoms to be ‘generated’. Over time these new isotopes and elements are in sufficient numbers to allow the build up of larger and larger atoms and isotopes. Ultimately (given sufficient initial mass of hydrogen for the fuel of fusion, as has been ‘kick-started’ by gravity and ionising (neutron) radiation alone) atoms of sufficient size are created that can be split into smaller ‘second generation’ atoms through the bombardment of these nucleii by high energy neutrons, which we know as the process of ‘fission’.
Both fission and fusion, through the conversion of small quantities of matter into energy, provide the energy necessary for the self-sustaining nuclear reactions that form the many products with which we are familiar in their listing on the Periodic Table (currently over a hundred and ten different elements, most with multiple isotopes).
Looking at an overview of this process we have a single, very simple type of atom with the energy of gravity and neutron radiation that is ultimately able to feed itself (with fusion and fission energy and ‘recycled’ neutron radiation), to grow into a wide variety of new types of atoms/isotopes and to self replicate through fusion, fission and radioactive decay.
Because of the fact that a solar nuclear furnace is not a closed system, in that radiated energy is ‘lost’ to the system, and the source of hydrogen atoms is not inexhaustible, as well as the fact that the conversion of matter into energy eventually ‘drains’ the system of the fuel it needs to continue replicating, all stars will ultimately ‘die’.
These are the features we ascribed to life at the beginning of this essay!
In short Gravity, neutrons and a number of Hydrogen atoms can ‘design’ all by themselves a process comparable to that we call ‘Life’!.
The star is ‘born’, grows, evolves into ‘higher’, more complex forms, supplies its own energy (food!) and ultimately, after perhaps billions of years, ‘dies’.