The Intimate Story of Two Wandering Carbon Atoms



This 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.

Carbon 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?

Carbon 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 100,000 Kelvin.

During 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.

This 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.


Table of Contents Page