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Science and science fiction can intertwine in some interesting ways. Consider krypton — the chemical element and the fictional planet.

The element was discovered in 1898. It makes up a tiny fraction of Earth’s atmosphere — about one part in a million. It’s colorless, odorless, and tasteless. And it almost never reacts with other matter. It’s used in some fluorescent light bulbs and in lasers.

In 1938, the creators of “Superman” needed a home planet for their visitor from another world. They named it Krypton, after the element, and wrote that the planet had exploded.

As scientists learned more about how elements form, they calculated that krypton must be forged in supernovas — the explosions of massive stars. The immense energy smashes together atoms to make heavier ones. The elements are fired into space, where they can be incorporated into new stars and planets. And that’s where Earth’s krypton came from. Some is in the air, but a little bit is found in the solid planet.

A few years ago, scientists studied some radioactive forms of krypton far below the surface. The krypton matched that found in meteorites. The scientists concluded that big space rocks brought not only krypton, but water, carbon, and other essential ingredients as Earth was taking shape.

So an element found on Earth and immortalized in the comics came from exploding stars — and played a role in learning about the formation of Earth.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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