Some asteroids are dense. So dense, in fact, that they may contain heavy elements outside the periodic table, according to a new study on mass density.
The team of physicists from the University of Arizona say they were motivated by the possibility of compact ultra-dense objects (CUDOs) with a mass density greater than osmium, the densest stable element in nature, which contains 76 protons.
“In particular, some observed asteroids have exceeded this mass density threshold. Particularly noteworthy is asteroid 33 Polyhymnia,” the team wrote in their study, adding that “since the mass density of 33 Polyhymnia is much greater than the maximum mass density of familiar asteroids.” “An atomic substance, which can be classified as a CUDO with an unknown composition.”
The team looked at the properties of possible elements with atomic numbers (Z) higher than Highest atomic number In the current periodic table. Although osmium is the densest stable element, elements with higher atomic numbers have been produced experimentally.
Oganesson, first manufactured in 2002 by Bombing Californium-249 contains calcium-48 atoms, has an atomic number of 118, and is the densest element in the periodic table. Elements at the higher end of the scale tend to be unstable, radioactive, and have incredibly short half-lives.
The elements were modeled outside the periodic table, where physicists had predicted their properties. The Arizona team did the same thing using Thomas Fermi’s relativistic model of the atom, trying to estimate the mass density of elements 110 Z and above.
Looking at the elements still within the periodic table, they were unable to find elements with mass densities high enough to explain what was observed from asteroid 33 Polyhymnia, even if they were stable enough to be considered a candidate.
“However, elements are in the other theoretical island of nuclear stability near Z = 164, which we expect to fill mass density values between 36.0 and 68.4 g/cm33“They are plausible candidates. If a significant portion of the asteroid is made of these superheavy metals, it is plausible that the higher mass density could be close to the experimentally measured value,” the team wrote.
“Our results on mass density allow us to hypothesize that if superheavy elements are stable enough, they could exist in the cores of dense asteroids such as 33 Polyhymnia,” the team added in their paper.
Although preliminary, it is of interest to anyone from people with a vague interest in physics to their tech brethren with plans to mine in space.
“All superheavy elements — those that are extremely unstable as well as those that are simply unobservable — are grouped together under the name ‘unobtainium,’” Jan Ravelski, the study’s author, added in the article. press release. “The idea that some of these elements might be stable enough to be obtained from within our solar system is exciting.”
The study is published in European Physical Journal Plus.
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