Jeans, Sir James - The Mysterious Universe - The carbon atom
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Sir James Jeans – The Mysterious Universe
Life exists in the universe only because the carbon atom possesses certain exceptional properties. Perhaps carbon is rather noteworthy chemically as forming a sort of transition between the metals and non metals, but so far nothing in the physical constitution of the carbon atom is known to account for its very special capacity for binding other atoms together. The carbon atom consists of six electrons revolving around the appropriate central nucleus, like six planets revolving around a central sun; it appears to differ from its two nearest neighbours in the table of chemical elements, the atoms of boron and nitrogen, only in having one electron more than the former and one electron fewer than the latter. Yet this slight difference must account in the last resort for all the difference between life and absence of life. No doubt the reason why the six electron atom possesses these remarkable properties resides somewhere in the ultimate laws of nature, but mathematical physics has not yet fathomed it.