The Sixth Element

The Sixth Element

A cosmic perspective on carbon--its importance in the universe and our lives

When we think of carbon, we might first think of a simple element near the top of the periodic table: symbol C, atomic number 6. Alternatively, we might think of something more tangible--a sooty piece of coal or a sparkling diamond, both made of carbon. Or, as Earth's temperature continues to rise alarmingly, we might think of the role carbon plays in climate change. Yet carbon's story begins long ago, far from earthly concerns. In The Sixth Element, astronomers Theodore Snow and Don Brownlee tell the story of carbon from a cosmic perspective--how it was born in the fiery furnaces of stars, what special chemical and physical properties it has, and how it forms the chemical backbone of the planets and all life as we know it. Foundational to every part of our lives, from our bodies to the food, tools, and atmosphere that sustain our existence, carbon is arguably humankind's most important element.

Snow and Brownlee offer readers the ideal introduction to the starry element that made our world possible and shapes our lives. They first discuss carbon's origin, discovery, and unique ability to bond with other elements and form countless molecules. Next, they reveal carbon's essential role in the chemical evolution of the universe and the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars, planets, and life, and then, more generally, its technological uses and its influence on Earth's climate. Bringing readers on a historical, scientific, and cross-disciplinary journey, The Sixth Element illuminates the cosmic wonder that is carbon.

Publication Date: 
June 4, 2024