Asteroids May Contain Unknown Elements Claims Scientists
ASTEROIDS MAY CONTAIN UNKNOWN ELEMENTS CLAIMS SCIENTISTS
We all learned about the elements on the periodic table at some point in life or even during school. Although it is very useful for identifying elements, there are still many unknowns in the universe. A recent study published in EJP Plus brilliantly demonstrates this by looking at asteroids. A team of researchers from the University of Arizona, Tucson's Department of Physics is studying a particular asteroid that has a higher density than any known element on Earth. Specifically, they investigated 33 Polyhymnia, an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It was discovered in 1854 and has an estimated mass of 75 g/cm3.
To put this into perspective, we need to look at the current periodic table and the elements within it. Elements with an atomic number (Z) greater than 104 are considered superheavy elements. Elements with atomic numbers 105 to 118 belong to the periodic table but were created only experimentally. They are radioactive and unstable, with a very short lifespan. Elements higher than 118 have some predicted characteristics but have not yet been observed.
The densest naturally occurring element is osmium, with atomic number 76. Its density is 22.59 g/cm3, approximately twice as dense as lead. Objects with higher densities are considered "compact ultra-dense objects" (CUDOs).
When the research team considered the proposed density of 33 Polyhymnia, they naturally concluded that it must contain elements greater than Z = 118. In the future, Jan Rafelski's team will use the Thomas-Fermi model of atoms to calculate the structures and properties of these superheavy elements. Specifically, they are interested in the "islands of nuclear stability" that the model predicts around Z=164. Their calculations confirmed this island of stability and predicted the proposed stable element density to be between 36.0 and 68.4 g/cm3. This approaches the density of 33 Polyhymnia, suggesting the idea that these asteroids may be made of materials currently unknown on Earth. For anyone interested in precious metals and their potential uses, this is an appealing idea. "All superheavy elements, both extremely unstable and simply unobserved elements, are grouped together as 'unobtaniums,'" Rafelski concludes. "The idea that some of these could be stable enough to be extracted from the solar system is exciting."