book is not about spies and weapons of mass destruction. The
subject matter here is far less predictable, for carbon atoms
have a way of getting around the globe remarkably
easily once they have been released from their fossilized fuel
or carbonate sediments. But before we go any further, let me dispense
with the chemistry right away. It's not so difficult, so just bear
with me for a short paragraph.
is a simple atom to remember: It has a nucleus containing
6 protons and 6 neutrons, with 6 orbital electrons. It has
a tendency to link to itself, as well as with hydrogen and/or oxygen,
hence the terms hydrocarbon for fuels containing only hydrogen and
carbon, and carbohydrate for sugars, starches and cellulose, which
contain all three elements. The complete combustion of either
type of molecule, in the presence of oxygen, breaks the carbon-carbon
bonds and leads to the formation of carbon dioxide. There,
now. That wasn't so bad, was it?
is common throughout the universe, found even in interstellar dust.
It's still being formed in the hottest stars by the fusion of three
helium nuclei. The process, called the triple alpha reaction
(because a helium nucleus is also called an alpha particle), occurs
only if the temperature of a star's interior exceeds 100,000º Kelvin.
the late Carboniferous Period, 300 million years ago, there were
extensive coral reefs in ancient seas, even in places that are high
and dry today, such as the Arabian Peninsula. Plankton and
bacterial remains, once covered by impermeable layers of sedimentary
rock, slowly decayed in the absence of oxygen into the fossil fuel
that we all use today, petroleum.
story is about two carbon atoms, Carla and Carlos,
who were part of the Arabian coral reefs millions of years ago,
and who have been trapped underground ever since. They have
been together for so long that they decide to stick together during
their adventures through the carbon cycle of life. In this
story they are psychic atoms, so they communicate through their
orbital electrons, sharing their interpretations of the world as
they see it through eyes very different from ours. Go ahead
and listen in on the personal opinions and "secrets" shared
between Carlos, Carla and other atoms as they travel though different
molecules to far away places.
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