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First Superheavy Element Found In Nature 296

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the maybe-knock-of-high-fructose-corn-syrup dept.
KentuckyFC writes "The first naturally occurring superheavy element has been found. An international team of scientists found several nuclei of unbibium in a sample of the naturally occurring heavy metal thorium. Unbibium has an atomic number of 122 and an atomic weight of 292. In general, very heavy elements tend to be unstable but scientists have long predicted that even heavier nuclei would be stable. The group that found unbibium in thorium say it has a half life in excess of 100 million years and an abundance of about 10^(-12) relative to thorium, which itself is about as abundant as lead." I'd also like it known that my spell checker did not know 'unbibium' before today, but it is now one word closer to encompassing all human knowledge.
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First Superheavy Element Found In Nature

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  • Re:stargate ref (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Orange Crush (934731) on Monday April 28, 2008 @10:40AM (#23224124)

    It's important, but I'd hardly call it one of the greatest discoveries made. It just confirms what we've suspected all along--There are stable elements past Uranium. There's a very narrow set of conditions that can synthesize them, and we haven't had alot of luck in the labs, but now that we know nature's managed it, we can possibly devise new experiments better aimed at sucessfuly generating these heavier elements.

    As far as how it got there naturally--presumably the same way all the naturally occuring heavy elements came to be--Supernovae billions of years ago.

  • by hunterk1 (71707) * on Monday April 28, 2008 @11:06AM (#23224536) Homepage
    They're not formed on earth. The amount they found is presumably all that's left after its "x"th half-life (however many have passed). It was formed into the earth what, 4.5 billion years ago as our planet coalesced from supernova material.

    Or at least, that's my best guess.
  • by Jerf (17166) on Monday April 28, 2008 @11:12AM (#23224642) Journal
    What, do you think nuclear reactors are build and atomic bombs are dropped on the large, naturally occurring thorium fields that we all remember playing in as children?

    Ah, how I remember passing the days on the bountiful thorium fields of my youth, before they paved them over with asphalt. How will the youth of today grow up to be responsible adults without the healthy, life-giving exposure to thorium [wikipedia.org] we all used to get? Good times, good times.

    (It never ceases to amaze me how rationality just goes flying out the window, even here, when any subject even remotely related to radiation comes up. I understand why, but it still amazes me.)
  • by Theovon (109752) on Monday April 28, 2008 @11:52AM (#23225306)
    It's been a long time, but I had read something about a prediction that element 126 was the expected stable superheavy. Just as electrons have shells, and filled shells make elements chemically neutral (like the noble gasses), neuclei have energy shells that occupy a lower ground state energy when completely filled. Based on the known elements, 126 was predicted.

    Here's some links:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unbihexium [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_stability [wikipedia.org]
    http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/84/i10/8410notw9.html [acs.org]
  • Re:names (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Chr0nik (928538) on Monday April 28, 2008 @11:57AM (#23225392)
    Actually Gv can only be catalyzed by Au. Once Am is formed however, it can exchange particles with Reservium (Rv) at the quantum level. These virtual particles although observable, are technically not really there, but yet present at the same time. The value of these particles to Am is increasingly meaningless in the fourth dimension. Am and Rv have a symbiotic relationship which eventually is mutually destructive, once critical mess is achieved.
  • Re:Very doubtful (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sensei moreh (868829) on Monday April 28, 2008 @12:56PM (#23226386)
    I'm not an isotope geochemist - just a humble (ok, maybe not so humble - after all, I'm posting here) petrologist. No easy way to test for specific unknown molecular ions at this time, so let's leave that as a possibility. Running other solutions of heavy elements seems like a must to confirm the conclusion. As for the chemical purity of the solution, I'm not convinced that eka-thorium would be so distinct as be readily separated from thorium. In conclusion, it's wise to remain sceptical, but I would not dismiss the conclusion out of hand.
  • Re:Just Unbibium? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sdpuppy (898535) on Monday April 28, 2008 @05:55PM (#23230342)
    Good point, but your example would have been a bit stronger if you described a mix of different nuclei rather than the same molecular formula. 2-butyne and 1,3-butadiene have the same molecular formula. The difference in energy between two single and one triple bond and with another molecule, same # of same nuclei 2 double bond one single (well, really a conjugated bond) should be miniscule as compared to nucleus bonding energy - for argument's sake, would it be detectable with the instrument that they were using ? (any physics person feel like picking up a calculator and calculating the difference in chemical energy of the two molecules?) That instrument has really great resolving power and exact mass is down to ppq (had to look that one up - parts per quadrillion - 10^-15 ) OK sorry for the nit-pick :-)

    But aside that it does boil down to what other experts in the field have to say. I've done mass spec using instruments that go down to 1 ppm (on good days :-)). The limitation on how good the results are (if you can tell one molecular formula from another by examining the mass results) depends an awful lot on stability of the instrument (which depends a bit on the environment) and the calibrants used. Their instrument is out of my league :-).I'd hate to see the hoops that have to be jumped through required to keep an instrument like that working properly. If their paper doesn't pan out, I'll bet that will be the sticking point (assuming this is not another Pons/Fleishman type of error. :-) )

    I'll believe it once it gets off the arXiv and into a peer-reviewed journal.

    Seconded!

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