The Top 5 Most Abundant Elements in the (Known) Universe

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You probably know the adage that says we are made of stars, but did you ever stop to wonder what exactly stars are made of? It turns out that they are mostly made up of the element hydrogen. Which is little surprise, because hydrogen is far and away the most common and abundant element in the universe. It makes up more than two-thirds of all matter, and that means everything from galaxies to stars to Jupiter to water. Why, even you have plenty of hydrogen in your body right now! As for the next most abundant elements around, a few of them might surprise you.

5 Neon

This inert, noble gas is good for more than just illuminating “open” signs with its ubiquitous red glow. Neon is also good for being the fifth most common element in the universe. It is relatively scarce on planets like earth, because neon atoms are highly lightweight and do not readily bond with any other elements to form compounds, thus any existing neon atoms tend to be lost to space.

4 Carbon

Carbon is not only the fourth most abundant element in the entire universe, but also the second most abundant element in the entire you! (Oxygen is the most prevalent, by the way, mostly in liquid form.) Solid carbon can exist in multiple forms: It makes up everything from charcoal to the Hope Diamond to the graphite in your pencil. Carbon is considered the basic building block of life; even though carbon-based life forms have a greater percentage of other elements, it is carbon’s ability to form long, stable chains with other types of elements that make life as we know it possible.

3 Oxygen

Good old oxygen comes in at number three. Why? Because … it’s the third most abundant element in the known universe. That’s why. But keep in mind that the oxygen you breathe is actually O2, a gas formed by two atoms of oxygen bound together. In its true, elemental form as single O, oxygen is a highly “reactive” element and is relatively unstable, which is why it constantly binds with other elements to form things like water, carbon dioxide and that good old oxygen gas we all love!

2 Helium

And here you though all helium was good for was making blimps and balloons float – and making your voice sound like a drunken Mickey Mouse! It turns out that helium, the second most abundant element in the universe, is actually an essential building block of stars. This proud member of the noble gas group (the inert, stable gasses) makes up about a quarter of the mass of the universe, making it a dozen times more abundant than all heavy elements (everything from sulfur to copper to gold) put together.

1 Hydrogen

Hydrogen is by far the most common and abundant element in the entire known universe. It makes up almost three-quarters of stars and it makes up two-thirds of a water molecule. And, when split, a single atom of hydrogen can create nuclear explosions large enough to level entire cities in a matter of seconds. In short, hydrogen is nature’s heaviest hitting element in more ways than one.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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