An ‘impossible’ quasi-crystal was created during the world’s first nuclear bomb test

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(ORDO NEWS) — At 5:29 am on July 16, 1945, a terrible slice of history occurred in New Mexico.

The dawn calm was broken by the blown-up United States Army. plutonium explosive device known as the Gadget – the world’s very first nuclear bomb test, known as the Trinity test. This moment will change the course of the war forever.

An energy release equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT vaporized the 30-meter (98-foot) test tower and the miles of copper wire connecting it to the recording equipment. The resulting fireball fused the tower and copper with the asphalt and desert sand below into green glass, a new mineral called trinitite.

Decades later, scientists discovered the secret hidden in a piece of this trinitite, a rare form. a substance known as a quasi-crystal that was once thought impossible.

“Quasicrystals form under extreme conditions that rarely exist on Earth,” geophysicist Terry Wallace of Los Alamos National Laboratory explained last year.

“They require a traumatic event with high impact, temperature and pressure. We don’t usually see it, except for something as dramatic as a nuclear explosion.”

Most crystals, from the humblest of table salt to the toughest diamonds, follow the same rule: their atoms are arranged in a lattice pattern that repeats itself in three-dimensional space. Quasicrystals violate this rule – the arrangement of their atoms is not repeated.

When this concept first appeared in the scientific world in 1984, it was considered impossible: crystals are either ordered or disordered, with no gap. Then they were actually found, both lab-created and in the wild, deep inside meteorites, forged by thermodynamic impact from events such as high-velocity impact.

Knowing that extreme conditions are required to produce quasicrystals, a team of scientists led by geologist Luca Bindi from the University of Florence in Italy decided to take a closer look at trinitite.

But not greens. Although they are unusual, we have seen enough quasi-crystals to know that they tend to include metals, so the team set out to look for a much rarer form of the mineral, red trinitite, given its hue due to the vaporized copper wires it contains. p>

Using techniques such as scanning electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction, they analyzed six small samples of red trinitite.

Finally, they managed to hit one of the samples – a tiny 20-sided grain of silicon, copper, calcium and iron with a five-fold rotational symmetry impossible in ordinary crystals – an “unintended consequence” of warmongering.

“This quasi-crystal is magnificent in its complexity, but no one can yet tell us why it formed this way,” Wallace explained in 2021, when the group’s study was published.

“But someday, a scientist or engineer will understand this, and the veil will be removed from our eyes, and we will get a thermodynamic explanation of its creation. Then, hopefully, we can use this knowledge to better understand nuclear explosions and ultimately lead to a more complete picture of what constitutes a nuclear test.”

This discovery represents the oldest known anthropogenic quasi-crystal and suggests that there may be other natural pathways for the formation of quasi-crystals. For example, fulgurites of molten sand formed by lightning strikes and material from meteorite impact sites can be a source of quasi-crystals in the wild.

The study could also help us better understand illegal nuclear testing, with the ultimate goal of curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the researchers said. The study of minerals formed at other nuclear test sites could reveal more quasi-crystals whose thermodynamic properties could become a tool for nuclear forensics.

“Understanding the nuclear weapons of other countries requires that we have a clear understanding of their nuclear test programs,” Wallace said.

“Usually we analyze radioactive debris and gases to understand how the weapon was created or what materials it contains, but these signs decay. A quasi-crystal that forms at the site of a nuclear explosion has the potential to tell us new types of information, and they will exist forever.”


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