OPEN THREAD 20200207

Basically, all legal free speech is allowed. We will assist the authorities in dealing with illegal speech. You are each other’s moderators. Have fun. And don’t forget to MAGA at nuclear levels.

Citizen U

Day 93 – NEPTUNIUM.

40 thoughts on “OPEN THREAD 20200207

    1. Uranium being the mascot element of this site, I had to pull out all the stops.

      I also prepped it in advance, which I had never done before.

      Which made my neptunium comment a bit shorter and later than the uranium one was.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Well, your Uranium thread was really a tour de force. I normally pull up the Wikipedia article and go, “what can I say that is more interesting than this?” and chase some footnotes — but you melded the nuclear, chemical, political, national, and personal threads in a very nice way.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. To be perfectly honest I heavily cribbed a couple of Isaac Asimov essays for a lot of that. He went into even more detail, some of his paragraphs became part of one sentence in what I wrote.

          The last piece, though, I wrote from memory.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Well, y’know — “talented artists mimic; great artists steal.”

            Trent Reznor was asked what he thought about this version of Hurt. He said “As soon as I heard Cash’s version, I realized that this wasn’t my song anymore.”

            Liked by 4 people

  1. Neptunium has three isotopes of significant interest. Np-237 has a half-life of 2.14 million years; Np-236 has a half-life of 154,000 years; and Np-235 has a half-life of 396.1 days [or just less than 1.1 years]. Other isotopes have been observed, but not for long.

    It has been determined that Np-237 could be used to make an atomic bomb. This would clearly be less of a geopolitical threat than making an atomic bomb out of Np-235 — such a bomb would have to be used within a few months of the neptunium’s isolation or half the fissile material could have transformed into something else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That doesn’t make sense. Np-237 has a two million year half life.

      The other isotope marked as “fissile” is Np-236, again, same deal, it has a 154,000 year half life.

      In fact both of these half lives exceed that of Pu-239, which we DO make bombs out of.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s less of a threat to make a Np-237 or Np-236 atomic bomb because they last a reasonable amount of time. If you made an atomic bomb out of Np-235, you’d have to “use it or lose it” in less than a year. Plus, I don’t know if you could make one out of Np-235 at all.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. According to wikipoo, 236 and 237 are the only fissile isotopes.

          When I first read what you had written, I thought, “oh he just meant a different isotope” so I thought I’d figure out what it was. But there’s no such short-lived fissile isotope, from what I can see.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Fascinating thread! Cthulhu “loosens” on fissile to humor on half life and isotope, while Steve “loosens” on half-life and isotope to make sense on fissile.

            You two are even logical in your logical collisions.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I tend towards a more “Alice-in-Wonderland” style of logic. I actually do grind through the oxides, halides, ionic forms, and isotope information in the source material — but I do so in order to find the paradoxes and quirks. And I’m fully able to stand things on their heads because they look goofier that way or tell baldfaced fabrications as if they should carry some weight (tongue firmly in cheek) — and eight out of nine chemists agree with me.

              SteveInCO finds beauty in the grand patterns, and expresses it in a lively manner with flow. My stuff is disconnected and choppy in contrast. The threads when he’s been here have been greatly improved by his contributions.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Half of me wishes there were more geeks here to join in the fun, but the other half of me remembers how horribly pedantic and “one-upsmanish” most science site comment sections tend to be, and prefers things just the way they are – “small department”!

                Liked by 1 person

              2. I should note, however, that I am slowly corrupting SteveInCO…..did you notice his name for element 74 when he was talking about density? Come to the dark side — we have cookies.

                Liked by 2 people

  2. Neptunium was discovered by Enrico Fermi when he tried bombarding uranium with slow neutrons. (I described this yesterday, but I will recap it here.)

    In doing so, he converted some U-238 nuclei into U-239 nuclei. (Recall that U-238 is the most common uranium isotope, with 146 neutrons, as opposed to U-235, which has 143 neutrons; the 238 and 235 are the numbers you get when you total up the number of neutrons with the number of protons, 92 in the case of any uranium isotope).

    U-239, however, has a very short half life (in contrast with over four billion years for U-238). That half life is 23.45 minutes. But makes it far more interesting is that U-239 does NOT decay by alpha decay. Alpha decay (hypothetically) would subtract 4 from the isotope number and two from the atomic number, making it thorium-235. Big deal.

    Instead U-239 undergoes beta decay. In essence, a neutron splits apart into a proton and an electron (and an antineutrino is blooped out too, but Fermi didn’t know about that…yet). The electron flies out of the nucleus, and that’s the “beta radiation.” The proton remains in the nucleus.

    But now…instead of element 92, isotope 239, you have element 93, isotope 239.

    And that is a VERY BIG DEAL indeed, no sarcasm at all this time.

    Until this moment, we had never seen ANY element past uranium.

    (Which is not to say element 93 doesn’t exist in nature; it does, because sometimes this neutron capture happens naturally in uranium ores. It’s an extremely rare occurrence, however.)

    Fermi didn’t realize it at the time. He thought his experiment had succeeded, but there was an awful lot of other stuff in his sample and his measurements were all over the map; likely because he’d fissioned some U-235 (see yesterday). But he had also unknowingly created element 94.

    You see, element 93, isotope 239 has a 2.3 day half life…and it, too decays by beta decay. So it bumps up to element 94, isotope 239.

    Uranium had been named after the planet Uranus; it seemed natural to continue the sequence with Neptune->neptunium, and Pluto->plutonium, because in the 1930s and 1940s Pluto had just been discovered and was decades away from being understood as the first member of a new class of astronomical object. It was considered a planet. (Sort of like Ceres, after which cerium was named; it became recognized as the first known asteroid.)

    So element 93, the element of the day, is “neptunium,” symbol Np, and stands as the first element artificially created, in fact many tons of it have been created.

    But in and of itself it’s of little interest. It’s the plutonium we’re after. And that’s a story for another day…tomorrow being that day.

    The most stable isotope of Neptunium isn’t 239, it’s 237. And 237, with a 2.14 million year half life, decays by alpha emission; in fact it’s considered the “top” of the neptunium decay series, which consists of a number of isotopes whose numbers, when divided by four, leave a remainder of 1.

    The earth is over 2000 times as old as that half life, thus in order for one atom of original neptunium 237 to still be around, statistically, we’d have to have started out with 2^2000 atoms of neptunium-237 in the earth. This is quite absurd. 2^10 is 1024, roughly a thousand, so for every ten powers of 2, we have roughly 3 powers of ten, so 2^2000 is very roughly 10^667.

    There aren’t that many atoms in the universe, much less the earth, not even close! (I’ve seen figures–old ones–estimating the number of protons in the universe at 10^80. Replace each proton with 10^587 protons, and now we’re getting somewhere close to 10^667 atoms in the universe.) So, it’s safe to say there isn’t an atom of original neptunium 237 on earth, and there isn’t a four billion year old atom of neptunium 237 anywhere in the universe; it would have to beat incredible odds to still exist after 2000 half lives.

    So there are few, if any, naturally occurring neptunium-237 decay series atoms on Earth. Any that do, exist because something in the thorium decay series captured a neutron, and that’s just as rare as natural Np-239.

    If you look up “neptunium” on wikipedia, there’s actually a picture of a sphere of it (coated in nickel, I believe), but that makes the point that neptunium can be, and is, mass-produced.

    Thus it actually makes sense to talk about its bulk properties.

    The density is 20.45…that beats out gold and wolfram, but does not beat out platinum, iridium, osmium, or rhenium. Still, it’s respectably dense.

    Here are some videos, from “Periodic Table Videos”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It should be noted that Neptunium is produced in volume inside nuclear power reactions as an unwanted by-product of their operation. It’s not that anyone is generating it on-purpose.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I mentioned that Np-237 was the “top” of the neptunium decay series, but…hypothetically, Am-241 will decay into Np-237. It has a much shorter half life, though, so it’s not considered the father of the series.

    But–you almost certainly have some Am-241 in your house! A story for another day.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Work done by Edwin McMillan at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley starting in 1939 led to the discovery of neptunium when he was playing with their new 60-inch cyclotron that had just been built there.

    Berkeley had an extensive collection of cyclotrons (particle accelerators) around that time — it seemed that every PhD student wanted to build a bigger one as his thesis work (or first postdoc grant). There’s actually an amusing anecdote that arises from this.

    It seems the FAA kept getting reports from people flying airplanes around the East Bay hills. They’d be flying along, clear skies, nothing untoward — and all their cockpit electronics would fail. Or an engine would quit firing. Or their radio would drop out….a second later, things would go back to normal — and a few minutes later, the pilots’ heartbeats would return to normal. This happened for years and the FAA had no idea why.

    Until some bright boys figured it out. One of the smaller cyclotrons — about a 30-incher IIRC — was used for training purposes to “show people how it worked” before they could book time on the larger ones. Because this was for practice purposes, students would irradiate stuff like paper clips and pencils. And because it wasn’t very large, it didn’t have a specific home — they’d move it from classroom to classroom. And, without a specific home, they’d just aim the output that went past the target out any convenient window.

    So these random aviators would encounter invisible particle beam weapons while flying anywhere near Berkeley. Mind you, the beam wasn’t collimated like a laser — it formed a cone……but at 10,000 feat, the cone was only a few yards across. Large enough to get one engine in a two-engine plane. And even if you hit it right in the middle, you’d be through it in a second or so. And the strength probably wasn’t going to permanently damage anything…..

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Reminds me of another conversation I had with a guy who worked at SLAC.

    The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is a large facility that shoots particle beams in a straight line. There’s this building that goes for about two miles that crosses under Interstate 280 near Menlo Park. (If you’re familiar with Venture Capital, the office location is 2575 Sand Hill Road.) Work there has generated three Nobels in Physics.

    Anyway, the guy told me that there are a number of things that people “know” about SLAC that aren’t so.

    First, the beam is in the building; no, that’s the support building — the beam is 30′ underground. Second, the buildings run off toward the mountains as a backstop; no, actually the beam is sourced out by the mountains and is aimed directly at downtown Palo Alto……and, past that, the Palo Alto Airport. Third, it’s a normal research job; well, no, you have to do things like take off eyeglasses, watches, belt-buckles, rings and credit cards — the eddy currents from the giant magnets do weird things to them. Finally, it all looks like a cool sci-fi movie set; the guy told me that the steering/propulsion magnets have failures every so often — and that a couple of them managed to turn a section of the wall about 30′ long and 1′ deep into plasma (which is why the beam is 30′ underground).

    Liked by 4 people

  6. OK, for the musical interludes tonight, I’m going back to a triple-bill concert I saw at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. For each featured performer, I’m including their most popular song at the time I was at the concert. You get to figure out the year if it amuses you to do so……and, I’m always open for musical suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. An linguistics professor was lecturing his class the other day. “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn’t a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative.”

    A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right….”

    Liked by 2 people

  8. A Spanish speaking bandit held up a bank in Tucson. The sheriff and his deputy chased him. When they captured him, and the sheriff, who couldn’t speak Spanish, asked him where he’d hidden the money. “No sé nada,” he replied.

    The sheriff put a gun to the bandit’s head and said to his bi-lingual deputy: “Tell him that if he doesn’t tell us where the money is right now, I’ll blow his brains out.”

    Upon receiving the translation, the bandit became very animated. “¡Ya me acuerdo! Tienen que caminar tres cuadras hasta ese gran arbol: allí está el dinero.”

    The sheriff leaned forward. “Yeah? Well..?”

    The deputy replied: “He says he wants to die like a man.”

    Liked by 2 people

  9. A Spanish speaking bandit held up a bank in Tucson. The sheriff and his deputy chased him. When they captured him, and the sheriff, who couldn’t speak Spanish, asked him where he’d hidden the money. “No sé nada,” he replied.

    The sheriff put a gun to the bandit’s head and said to his bi-lingual deputy: “Tell him that if he doesn’t tell us where the money is right now, I’ll blow his brains out.”

    Upon receiving the translation, the bandit became very animated. “¡Ya me acuerdo! Tienen que caminar tres cuadras hasta ese gran arbol: allí está el dinero.”

    The sheriff leaned forward. “Yeah? Well..?”

    The deputy replied: “He says he wants to die like a man.”

    Translations:
    “No sé nada” — “Don’t know nothin'”

    “¡Ya me acuerdo! Tienen que caminar tres cuadras hasta ese gran arbol: allí está el dinero.” — “I remember now! You have to walk three blocks to that big tree: there is the money.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It was the ‘storm of the century’. On death row, Franz was reading his religious texts, looking for God, even as the inmates of the neighbouring cells were having an explosive argument about who should get to shower first. ’14 days to execution’, Franz thought, as he physically and mentally trembled. If there were ever a time for divine interference, it was now. That was when everything went dark.

    ‘This must be a power shortage,’ Franz mused to himself. ‘Wait, the backup generators obviously aren’t working either, or maybe just not yet. Maybe the electric doors are unlocked?’ Optimistically, Franz pushed on his cell door, which did give way!

    Adrenaline now coursing through his veins, Franz realised that this was it. He got to his feet and ran through multiple corridors, none of which had working doors. Then, he spotted a lone guard running up the corridor, obviously out of breath. With a quick punch and jab, the guard was down on the floor, and Franz snapped his neck with the adroitness of a practiced fighter and killer, which he was after all. The commotion in the rest of the prison, added to the noise of the rain, covered the noise generated by the quick melee.

    Searching through the guard’s possessions, Franz was delighted to find not only a wallet, but car keys! After quickly donning the guard’s gear, he ran towards the exit of the prison unstopped by anyone, and drove to his freedom. 300 miles away and in a small town of different state, Franz finally stopped to get what he needed after abandoning the car in the deep woods and taking along a bag-pack. ‘They’ll never find me now,’ he reasoned. It was then that he saw an extremely elegant lady with flaxen hair, walking down the street.

    Franz was tall, dark, handsome, and extremely charismatic. Knowing his strengths, he approached the lady, posing as a bag-packer. Over a short but sweet conversation, he convinced the lady, Elise, to let him stay the night at her place. Once the television came on in the morning though, bearing Franz’s mugshot and a ‘shoot on sight’ recommendation, it quickly dawned on Elise that she was harbouring an Eastern-European gangster who was also a wanted serial killer.

    ‘NO WAY!’ Elise shouted at Franz, as Franz begged her to give him a chance. Ordinarily this would have just meant one more dead body. But over the night, Franz realised that he really loved Elise. Besides, from a pragmatic point of view a dead body popping up in this town would be of no help to himself, especially when the police search was centred 300 miles away.

    Using every last drop of his linguistic virtuosity, Franz told Elise the very sad story of a child in a family of gangsters, who was born solely to be a mere pawn in the web of crime lynchpins. He managed to convince Elise to harbour him for just a few days. Those few days turned into weeks, then months, and eventually years.

    Using a stolen identity, Franz and Elise were able to build a new life together, and enjoy everything that normal couples would. They toured the alpine paradises of Switzerland, and the caverns of Sonora. They enjoyed Italian operas, and American soaps. They engaged in extreme sports, and watched spectator games. But the one thing they shared a particular partiality for was comedy, in all its forms.

    After 13 years of sheer unadulterated bliss though, Elise was hit by the sudden discovery that she had late stage cancer, and only a few months to live. The first few days after the revelation were marked with intense anguish and bitterness for the couple. But as they slowly accepted Elise’s cruel fate, the couple were able to push forward and live their lives to the fullest, despite the impending tragedy. Gradually though, Elise’s energy waned, and the couple went from spending their time out rappelling and rock climbing, to spending never-ending nights in the ICU.

    One night, as she was coughing up blood, Elise whispered laboriously to Franz, ‘I think this is it. I don’t think I’ll get past tonight. Can you get him to come?’

    Franz fumbled for his mobile phone and made a quick phone call. Over the last few months, Franz had managed to get a famous comedian to promise to do a stand-up routine for just himself and Elise, and he was now redeeming the promise he had extracted. After all, humour was the one thing that he shared with Elise most profoundly, and both of them wanted to spend their last day together, enjoying what they loved most.

    A mere 5 minutes later, there was a knock on the hospital door. A surprised Franz opened the door, and found himself staring at an entire SWAT team and down the barrels of their guns. In that moment, he knew the game was up. Instantly he fully felt the delayed tiredness of all the last few months.

    ‘Is it him?’ Elise mumbled from her bed quite hoarsely and inaudibly. And as the last 14 beautiful years flashed in his head, Franz tiredly replied:

    ‘It’s not the joke. It’s the execution.’

    Liked by 1 person

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