Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Unraveling the ultimate question of ‘Life, Universe and Everything’

In the most imaginative and fantastic works ever created by a sentient being belonging to Homo Sapiens species, living on an ordinary planet, surrounding an average star, which lies on the outer arm of a common galaxy, called The Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy, we find the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. 

Rivaling the most profound statement ever made since Big Bang, in another fantastic fiction called The Bible, by an extremely interesting character called God who said ‘Let there be Light’, the Deep Thought computer created by the hyper-intelligent mice, after calculating for 7.5 million years, spells out the answer to the question of Life, Universe and Everything as a whole number ‘42’. 

"Forty-two!" yelled Loonquawl.
"Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?"

"I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."

Yes, the number 42 is indeed the answer to the ultimate question of Life, Universe and Everything.  If it were not, it would not have made it into Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy.  And The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy would not have been the most imaginative and fantastic works if it had not given out the answer to ultimate question of Life, Universe and Everything.

For many years now, many smart men and women of Homo Sapiens species living on the planet Earth pondered over the answer, unable to explain the question.  Many of them could not make sense of it – because Douglas Adams has conveniently forgotten to explain it for them. 

However, it is not true that Douglas Adams has ‘conveniently forgotten’ to explain the mystery of 42.  In fact, he has mailed the explanation to an unknown destination in the future – the year 2012.  Thankfully, that letter with the necessary explanation is now in our hands and here I am going to reveal the mystery to all of you lesser mortals. 

And while this mysterious mystery is being unraveled, remember one thing, ‘Don’t Panic!’

Life is formed essentially out of a bunch of living cells which are essentially made of certain organic molecules whose composition consists mainly of the elements Carbon, Oxygen and Nitrogen, and of course Hydrogen (referred to as CHON).   These elements combine in various combinations to form really giant chains of molecules thereby creating the essential proteins, enzymes and even the DNA.   So, without these elements there wouldn’t be life.

Now, where are these elements created in the Universe?  When the Universe was formed out of Big Bang, there was essentially Hydrogen and Helium.  And many of the stars burn Hydrogen to form Helium, but also create a smattering of elements like Carbon, Oxygen and Nitrogen, which in turn aid the fusion process (called CNO cycle).  Therefore, the elements of Carbon, Oxygen and Nitrogen are essential for the stars to keep them burning which is the key reason for the Universe to be the way it is – with many shining stars, galaxies and black holes.

So how do we get elements like Carbon, Oxygen and Nitrogen onto a planet like Earth?

We get these elements from raw material created by explosion of the stars.  When the stars explode in supernova, the dust from the stars is scattered, becoming the raw materials for formation of new stars.   One such star system formed out of the remnants of dead star is our own Solar System, which consists of a third generation star called Sun surrounded by various planets, including our beloved Earth.

The key to Life, Universe and Everything are therefore the elements Carbon, Oxygen and Nitrogen whose nucleon count is 12, 16 and 14, which add up to 42.

Therefore, the real question is ‘what is the total number of nucleons in the essential elements that make up Life, Universe and Everything?’

And the answer is 42.

Now, please hand over that Nobel Prize.

Of course, the whole story is a figment of my imagination – means it is fiction.  Douglas Adam himself gave an answer on November 2, 1993, on alt.fan.douglas-adams:

"The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do' I typed it out. End of story."


  1. Intresting... but there could be life in the universe which could be not based on Carbon. (ex. fictional transformers/autobots etc)

  2. Green Star...
    Possible. But Carbon turns out to be the most versatile elements in the entire periodic table with its ability to form molecules of various kinds, including extremely long chains. Silicon comes close, but still does not rival Carbon. And self-organizing life seems to depend on this versatility (can't rule out other possibilities).

  3. Great theory! Though my own is that it is the sum of digits on a pair of dice...which symbolizes chance. what the question is then, u ask...well it could be "why life exists/why are we here on earth?" or "what does paradise/pair-of-dice amount to?"

    Did u notice that DNA is also the authors initials :)


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