‘Old Star, New elemental Tricks’, bonus “Periodic Table of Poetry” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Old Star, New elemental Tricks

Janet Kuypers

bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, with Arsenic (#033, As) and Selenium (#034, Se)

When the Big Bang first exploded,
the only elements it could muster
were hydrogen and helium
and a smidgen of lithium and boron.

Higher elements were only created
after the creation of stars.

But scientists have now discovered
that in an ancient star
in the faint stellar halo
surrounding the Milky Way,
astronomers have detected
the presence of Arsenic and Selenium.

Now, I’ve only known Arsenic
as highly toxic, and scientists
pulling phosphorus from the sextet
of life while down at the Arsenic-rich
Mono Lake to fill DNA with Arsenic.

And Selenium is used for horses,
but can kill a person if ingested
regularly (even leaving a garlic
taste when given to victims).
Hmmm, and I like garlic so much…

But these two elements,
sitting right next to each other
in the Periodic Table, transition
from light to heavy elements,
and have never been found
in old stars — until now.

You see, stars like our sun
usually make the lighter elements
(like, up to oxygen),
and heavier stars can make
elements as high in the Periodic Table
as iron. Any elements
heavier than that
(like Arsenic and Selenium)
have to be made by
neutron-capture nucleosynthesis.
So, thanks to the nuclear reaction
from inside the heaviest of stars,
scientists found Arsenic and Selenium
in a 12 billion year-old halo star.

And they say the universe
is like 13.77 billion years old,
so when I’m talking old star remanants,
I’m talking infancy of the universe stars.

(And we thought we were the only ones
who know how to utilize these
poisonous elements here on earth,
and now we see that stars
from the ancient history of this universe
have been creating this stuff for eons…)

So they’ve discovered
quite a new trick
from this old star,
which means we now know how to look
for elements in other stars,
and maybe explain why
some elements appear on earth.
Cause, it’s all science,
and we can explain away
the mysteries of what’s good
and bad here on planet earth,
and trace it all the way back
to the toddler years of
this entire universe too…

Cerium, “Periodic Table of Poetry” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


by Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#58, Ce)
including the poem “Jumping from the Skyline to the Clouds”

Joining commuters driving
toward the Chicago Loop,

I watched majestic skyscrapers
frame the skyline,

as I witnessed over Lake Michigan
early morning clouds —

thin at the top, each cloud looked
like a snow-capped mountain,

framing this flat-land city, and
surrounding the skyscraper skyline…

But all those clouds
were only formed in the mornings

by the early morning weather,
pulling water daily from Lake Michigan.

When the water from the lake
is warmer than the dew point,

water rises until the air is cold enough
so that lake water forms those clouds.

But the thing is, Lake Michigan
is more than hydrogen and oxygen —

at times they even warn the public
to not go into the unsafe water

(the same water Chicago filters
for everyone to shower in, or drink).

So I checked some of the studies
on what foreign compounds

Lake Michigan actually contains —
at times you can find everything

from cadmium, mercury, lead or zinc,
to copper, chromium, even selenium.

That list included harmful elements,
but the numbers that were really

off the charts came from Cerium.
Cerium acts like calcium

in the human body, and you can
find a lot of Cerium in tobacco plants —

and with Cerium’s moderate toxicity,
prolonged exposure can lead to

itching, heat sensitivity or skin lesions.
And wait a minute, Cerium can

spontaneously ignite if the air
is hot, and you may be thinking

that if Cerium’s in water it should
be safe, but water can’t be used

to stop a Cerium fire, since Cerium
reacts with water to make hydrogen gas.

Well, if Cerium fire fumes are toxic,
then so much for Lake Michigan being

good for you — even when Chicago
has multiple water purification plants.

Because Cerium in the water
that forms those morning clouds

is one thing, but no matter the toxicity
of Cerium, remember that us humans

are over seventy percent water.
With all the compounds

that Cerium goes into,
it’s probably best if Cerium’s left

to it’s industrial uses, instead
of working it’s way in our water…

And besides, it’s nice to think
that those beautiful morning clouds

framing the Chicago skyline
with snow-capped mountains

are actually more than just hydrogen
and oxygen, because every once

in a while, look at that morning sky.
Because in just the right way,

a little Cerium
can really go a long way.