What’s the universe made of?How much of you lies among the stars? How are the …

What’s the universe made of?

How much of you lies among the stars? How are the elements that make up life distributed among stars and planets? As trippy as the questions seem, astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) announced today at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society that they knew the answers — or, at least, were starting to learn them.

SDSS, “the energizer bunny of sky surveys,” according to spokesperson Karen Masters, is a massive data collection project that’s been going on for 17 fruitful years. By analyzing and breaking down a star’s light, astronomers can determine the elements within. Do that with enough stars, and you can start to map out the distribution of elements throughout our galaxy. That’s just what the APOGEE (Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment) project did, looking at more than 150,000 stars in the process, using infrared light to peer through the dust that blocks visible light waves.

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