(ORDO NEWS) — Most trinitites are greenish in color, but the red trinitite contains copper, the remnants of wires that ran along the ground to the bomb. Artifacts from the early atomic age are still of scientific interest
After the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico in July 1945, the debris at the test site coalesced together to form a vitreous substance now called trinitite.
High temperature and pressure created an unusual structure in one of the 10 micrometer pieces of trinitite (slightly larger than a red blood cell).
This grain contains a rare form of matter called a quasi-crystal, which appeared at the beginning of the nuclear age.
Normal crystals are composed of atoms that form a lattice that periodically repeats itself in space. The atoms of a quasicrystal also form a lattice, as in a normal crystal, but it does not repeat itself. This means that quasicrystals can have properties that ordinary crystals do not have. In nature, quasicrystals are found in meteorites.
A recently discovered quasi-crystal at a New Mexico test site is the oldest known to have been created by humans. “You can buy it on eBay,” says geophysicist Terry Wallace, study co-author and director emeritus of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
But the trinitite the researchers have studied is an extremely rare variety called red trinitite. Scattering X-rays through it, the researchers found that the material has a type of symmetry that is characteristic only of quasicrystals.
The quasi-crystal, made up of silicon, copper, calcium and iron, is “completely new to science,” says Caltech mineralogist Chi Ma, who was not involved in the study.
As materials scientist Miriam Hibert of the University of Maryland at College Park says, “This is not just a curiosity in collectors’ closets, but a real scientific value.”
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