the expert astronomer, the stars are part of a huge natural laboratory-one of enormous
extremes. While an atomic physicist can perform an experiment on the behavior of matter in
a particle accelerator on earth accelerator on earth, an astrophysicist has access to the
far more energetic conditions in the heart of a very distant star, or close to a black
hole. Light years away in the vast cosmos, the stars provide a huge test-bed for theories
about the behavior of matter that we cannot come close to earth. And they are much more
besides. In a sense, the stars are actually alive: they are born, they live, and they die.
Our local star, the sun, is no exception at all. It is halfway through its 10 billion year
life span, and it too will die-and with it, the Earth. But a star is a phoenix. From its
ashes will rise the next generation of stars and planets-and maybe even the building
blocks of life itself.