The basic building blocks of all minerals are the approximately 290 stable or long-lived isotopes of 84 elements. Yet, when the universe began and nuclear reactions ceased after about 15 minutes, the only elements present were hydrogen, helium, and traces of lithium. After the groundbreaking work by Cameron and Burbidge and coworkers in the 1950s, it is now understood that all the other elements are made in stars in an ongoing cycle of nucleosynthesis. Stars form, create new elements via nuclear reactions, and finally disperse the new elements into space via winds and explosions, forming the seeds for new stars.

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