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Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'm thankful for Hydrogen

Thankful for Hydrogen

Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. About 75% of the mass of the universe is Hydrogen. That is even more remarkable, since Hydrogen is also the least massive of the kinds of atoms. It takes about 12 Hydrogens to have the same mass as Carbon, and over 200 Hydrogens to have the same mass as some of the heavier elements.

So why, other than that it is common, is Hydrogen important? For a number of reasons. The graphic says that Hydrogen makes up part of water, and water is a unique, and very important substance. The graphic also says that Hydrogen is important in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis uses light energy to split Hydrogen from water, and to attach that Hydrogen to Carbon. As a result of the process, glucose, C6H12O6, is produced. Glucose is the basic food molecule of the biosphere, and it has 12 Hydrogen atoms. The graphic says that Hydrogen is found in DNA. It is. It's also found in fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, hormones, and more, all of them essential to living things, including us.

The graphic also says that Hydrogen can be said to be the ultimate source of the sun's energy. That is true. Four Hydrogen nuclei fuse, to make a Helium nucleus, and, in the process, a little of the mass of the four Hydrogens is changed to energy, according Einstein's E=mc2 equation. Since the mass is multiplied by the velocity of light, squared, that energy adds up. The sun is not burning, in the usual sense. It is changing its Hydrogen to Helium, nuclear fusion, and is releasing energy in the process. The sun is changing about 4.289x1012 g of mass to energy every second. (source) That's about 5 million tons. But don't worry. Even at that rate, the sun isn't going to run out of Hydrogen for a very long time. There's a LOT of Hydrogen in the sun.

They aren't on the graphic, but I'll mention two other important things that Hydrogen is and does.

Hydrogen makes acids to be what they are. An acid is a substance that can release a charged Hydrogen atom. Some of us have too much acid in our digestive system, and take various antacids, or proton release inhibitors. (A proton makes up the nucleus of a Hydrogen atom.) But acids are very important. Stomach acid does a good job in digesting food, for one thing.

Hydrogen is an excellent fuel, in the sense that you can get a lot of energy from it when you  burn it. Rockets blasting off into space use Hydrogen as their fuel. The chemical equation is very simple: 2 Hydrogens + 1 Oxygen = 1 water + energy. Recall that photosynthesis uses light energy to break up water. Burning Hydrogen does the opposite. It puts Hydrogen and Oxygen together, and gives up energy in the process. There is Hydrogen in most of the molecules in gasoline, and in kerosene, and in natural gas, coal and wood. When any of these burn, water is produced. (Check your exhaust pipe on a cold day.)

Hydrogen fuel, in various ways, may become more useful to us in the future. Hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles are being tested. Since Hydrogen is available in water, and there is plenty of water, we aren't going to run out of Hydrogen. However, like photosynthesis, to get Hydrogen out of water takes energy, which means that Hydrogen fuel cells will probably take more energy to produce than they make available. But they may still be used, because of convenience, and cutting down on the pollution from burning gasoline, if various developmental details can be worked out.

Thanks for reading! I believe, but cannot prove, that God planned for Hydrogen, the smallest nucleus, to have these important roles in our lives, and in the way the universe is. It can't be disproved, either.

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