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First superheavy element found in nature

  1. Apr 28, 2008 #1

    SF

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    The hunt for superheavy elements has focused banging various heavy nuclei together and hoping they’ll stick. In this way, physicists have extended the periodic table by manufacturing elements 111, 112, 114, 116 and 118, albeit for vanishingly small instants. Although none of these elements is particularly long lived, they don’t have progressively shorter lives and this is taken as evidence that islands of nuclear stability exist out there and that someday we’ll find stable superheavy elements.

    But if these superheavy nuclei are stable, why don’t we find them already on Earth? Turns out we do; they’ve been here all along. The news today is that a group led by Amnon Marinov at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has found the first naturally occuring superheavy nuclei by sifting through a large pile of the heavy metal thorium.

    What they did was fire one thorium nucleus after another through a mass spectrometer to see how heavy each was. Thorium has an atomic number of 90 and occurs mainly in two isotopes with atomic weights of 230 and 232. All these showed up in the measurements along with a various molecular oxides and hydrides that form for technical reasons.

    But something else showed up too. An element with a weight of 292 and an atomic number of around 122. That’s an extraordinary claim and quite rightly the team has been diligent in attempting to exclude alternative explanations such as th epresence of exotic molecules formed from impurities in the thorium sample or from the hydrocarbon in oil used in the vacuum pumping equipment). But these have all been ruled out, say Marinov and his buddies.

    What they’re left with is the discovery of the first superheavy element, probably number 122.

    What do we know about 122? Marinov and co say it has a half life in excess of 100 million years and occurs with an abundance of between 1 and 10 x10^-12, relative to thorium, which is a fairly common element (about as abundant as lead).

    Theorists have mapped out the superheavy periodic table and 122 would be a member of the superheavy actinide group. It even has a name: eka-thorium or unbibium. Welcome to our world!

    http://arxivblog.com/?p=385
     
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  3. Apr 29, 2008 #2

    malawi_glenn

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    One can not say that one has evidence for that it exists islands of stability, only that it might indicate something.

    And yeah, a very unserious article at arxiv, that does not impresses me.. you know, there is no referee there, its quite easy to publish articles there.
     
  4. Apr 29, 2008 #3
    I wish I could follow your logic. If it exists and is naturally occurring then it has a half-life considerably longer than the existing man-made super heavy elements and indicative that the theory predicting islands of stability is correct.
     
  5. Apr 29, 2008 #4

    malawi_glenn

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    The logic is this:

    "The hunt for superheavy elements has focused banging various heavy nuclei together and hoping they’ll stick. In this way, physicists have extended the periodic table by manufacturing elements 111, 112, 114, 116 and 118, albeit for vanishingly small instants. Although none of these elements is particularly long lived, they don’t have progressively shorter lives and this is taken as evidence that islands of nuclear stability exist out there and that someday we’ll find stable superheavy elements."

    The man-made elements, seems to have logner and longer life-times, but you can not a priori say that this trend will continue. i.e you can not prove that it exists an island of stabilty out there from this observation that the life times of the man made elements increases.

    If one really finds long lived, super heavy elements, then one can say something else, but today - only one report about findings of super heavy elements exists. And that article isn't published in a journal, it only exists at arxiv.
     
  6. Apr 29, 2008 #5
    Naturally Occurring Super Heavy Elements

    If the results are duplicated and verified by other researchers then this will be truly interesting. However, if you go back and look at any old scientific journal one can readily deduce that relatively few revolutionary discoveries end up being reproduced and proven.

    This is not the first time I've read about evidence for naturally occurring super heavy elements.

    I attempted to post a couple of URL's but this forum won't let me however, if you spend some time with Google you'll be able to find a case where a similar search was done with a gold sample and super-heavy elements found on similar concentrations (1 in 1x10E11).

    It sure would be interesting if the results are duplicated and then if enough material is collected to actually learn something about it's properties.
     
  7. Apr 29, 2008 #6

    malawi_glenn

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    only then the results are interseting.

    My obecjtion was that one can not a priori draw a conclusion that the trend of increasing life times of man made heavy elements is an evidence that this trend will continue til we eventually will find that the elements are stable.

    Also a reference to that statement that the life times of man made elements have longer and longer lifetimes would be suitable for the OP to post.

    I wait til I can read about it in a real physics journal.
     
  8. Apr 29, 2008 #7
    IIRC all man-made heavy elements are lacking neutrons.
    The smaller nuclei used to create the new elements tend to have less neutrons per proton, and the newly created heavy nuclei tend to emit neutrons as a way to lose energy.

    We aren't able to create the most stable isotopes of these heavy elements. These might have much longer life times.
     
  9. Apr 29, 2008 #8
    But has anybody ever tried to search for eka-thorium / unbibium / element 122 in this way before?

    If not, I'm wondering why nobody ever thought to look for it?
    After all, since eka-thorium is chemical similar to thorium, if it exists then it would be natural for it to congregrate where thorium is found. Same for eka-uranium (aka unbiquadium, or element 124) being found with uranium.

    Thorium is much more abundant in the earth's crust, and also a less sensitive material to handle, so that it would make sense to first comb through thorium supplies to confirm the eka-thorium. And then if that's true, start combing through uranium to find eka-uranium.

    But what I'm dying to know is, what are the practical applications for such a material??
    For example, could it be used as a radiation shield, because of its large cross section?

    Could it be used as some fabled High Energy Density Material?

    What are its electrical properties?
     
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