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The Hardest Thing To Find In The Universe?
NPR ^ | July 12, 2013 | ROBERT KRULWICH

Posted on 07/12/2013 1:41:47 PM PDT by nickcarraway

What is rarer than a shooting star?

Rarer than a diamond?

Rarer than any metal, any mineral, so rare that if you scan the entire earth, all six million billion billion kilos or 13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds of our planet, you would find only one ounce of it?

What is so rare it has never been seen directly, because if you could get enough of it together, it would self-vaporize from its own radioactive heat?

What is this stuff that can't be seen or found? Well, here's a hint. It's sitting modestly in a lower row in the Periodic Table, down on the lower right, in a box marked "At."

Periodic table iStockphoto.com "At" stands for astatine. It is an element with 85 protons packed into its nucleus, thus the atomic number "85" ...

Astatine iStockphoto.com The problem is, there's something about 85 protons in a tight space that nature doesn't enjoy. Almost as soon as they squeeze together bits of nuclear material get spat out, or get added, and poof!It isn't astatine any longer.

This element has a half life of roughly 8 hours, meaning if you could get a clump of it to stay on a table (you can't), half of it would disintegrate in 8 hours, and then every 8 hours another half would go until in a few days, there'd be no astatine on the table. Its nickname should be "Goodbye!"

By comparison, a clump of bismuth (atomic number 83) loses half its atoms in 20 billion billion years. So astatine blinks out fast. Its name comes from the Greek "astastos" meaning "unstable."

How Do You Know It's There?

How do you discover something you can't see and can't find? Well, according to science writer (and Radiolab regular) Sam Kean, you believe it should be there, and it will come.

In his book The Disappearing Spoon Sam explains that when the periodic table was being assembled, nobody had seen an atom with 85 protons, but — because the 85 box is directly below the Iodine box ("I" — atomic number 53) ...

Element 85 iStockphoto.com ... they figured, when it turns up, it might resemble iodine. Elements sharing a vertical column often share behaviors. What's more, they figured heavier atoms might be made to disintegrate and become astatine (however briefly). Or lighter atoms could be made weightier. So thinking it would show up, in the 1930s lots of physicists tried to make some "element 85."

Alabamine! Dakkin! Helvetia!

In 1931, an Alabama physicist said, "I've done it!" and he called his discovery "alabamine" (discoverers get naming rights), but his work was invalidated. A chemist in Dacca (now Bangladesh, then India) said "I've got it!" and named his version "dakkin", but his method proved faulty. A Swiss chemist came next and called his discovery "helvetium" from Helvetia, (Latin for Switzerland), but nobody could reproduce what he'd done, until finally three Berkeley scientists did it right, and so it became Astatine.

Check The Rodent ...

guinea pig iStockphoto.com A few years later, some lab-created astatine was injected into a guinea pig and traces were found in the little rodent's thyroid gland, which is where you'd normally find iodine! So the element did behave like its upstairs neighbor! Now they were sure. "Astatine remains the only element whose discovery was confirmed by a nonprimate," writes Sam.

Alma Mater-izing

But with all this place-naming, I wondered, why didn't the Berkeley scientists name their element after Berkeley?

Well, Sam reports, scientists at UC Berkeley discovered so many elements in the 40s and 50s, they could be patient. Element 85 is astatine. Element 97 is called berkelium. Element 98 is called Californium. These discoveries led The New Yorker to muse that if only they'd waited longer they could have spelled out their complete name ...

... the university ... has lost forever the chance of immortalizing itself in the atomic tables with some such sequence as universitium (97), ofium (98), californium(99), berkelium(100). Berkeley scientists Glenn Seaborg and Albert Ghiorso quickly wrote back to point out if they'd done "universitium" "ofium" they'd have been in dangerous territory. What if some NYU scientists found elements 99 and 100 and named them "newium and yorkium"? Then Berkeley would have handed NYU a four-element crown.

The New Yorker staff, rooting for the home team, warmed to the challenge: "We are already at work in our office laboratories on 'newium' and 'yorkium,' they wrote back. "So far we have just have the names."

Ah, the vanities of science!

Some of you will say that another element, francium (atomic number 87), is even more unstable than astatine, and you're right. Its nickname should be "gone!" As Sam writes, "If you had a million atoms of the longest-lived type of astatine, half of them would disintegrate in 400 minutes. A similar sample of francium would hang on for 20 minutes. Francium is so fragile, it's basically useless." Astatine, however, is rarer and can be used to treat thyroid cancers.

For a more official version of Astatine's discovery, here's a synopsis from Chemistry World:

Astatine was the second synthetic element to be conclusively identified just three years after Technetium, was isolated by Carlo Perrier and Emilio Segre of the University of Palermo. The element had actually been created in a cyclotron particle accelerator at the University of California in Berkeley where Segre spent the following summer continuing his research. But miles away from Italy Mussolini's government passed anti Semitic laws which barred Jewish people like Segre from holding University positions; so he stayed where he was, taking up a job at Berkeley and in 1940 he helped to discover Astatine along with Dale Corson, he was then a post doc and later went on to become President of Cornell University and grant student Kenneth MacKenzie. They bombarded a sheet of bismuth metal, that's two doors down from Astatine in the periodic table, with alpha particle to produce Astatine 211, which has a half life of about 7 1/2 hours and it neatly filled the gap in the periodic table just beneath iodine. Segre went on to become a group leader for the Manhattan project which built the first atomic weapon. And it was only once the Second World War was over that the trio proposed the name Astatine for their elemental discovery. It was from the Greek word meaning unstable.


TOPICS: Miscellaneous; Science; Weird Stuff
KEYWORDS: astatine; stringtheory; xplanets

1 posted on 07/12/2013 1:41:47 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway

John Boehner’s testicles


2 posted on 07/12/2013 1:42:16 PM PDT by Buckeye McFrog
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To: Buckeye McFrog

obama’s real birth cert


3 posted on 07/12/2013 1:43:24 PM PDT by max americana (fired liberals in our company after the election, & laughed while they cried (true story))
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To: nickcarraway

CCI Mini Mags


4 posted on 07/12/2013 1:44:10 PM PDT by Kenton
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To: Buckeye McFrog

I like astatine with a little piece of cheese or crumbled up in my soup


5 posted on 07/12/2013 1:44:43 PM PDT by frithguild (You can call me Snippy the Anti-Freeper)
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To: Buckeye McFrog

“John Boehner’s testicles”

One cannot find that which does not exist, grasshopper.


6 posted on 07/12/2013 1:45:30 PM PDT by Da Coyote
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To: nickcarraway

A moral democrat?


7 posted on 07/12/2013 1:45:44 PM PDT by icwhatudo (Low taxes and less spending in Sodom and Gomorrah is not my idea of a conservative victory)
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To: nickcarraway

A honest politician.


8 posted on 07/12/2013 1:45:49 PM PDT by mdittmar
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To: nickcarraway

The Hardest Thing To Find In The Universe?

An honest lawyer?
A constitution obeying federal politician?
A feminist that you’d want to be married to?


9 posted on 07/12/2013 1:49:06 PM PDT by freedomfiter2 (Brutal acts of commission and yawning acts of omission both strengthen the hand of the devil.)
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To: nickcarraway

An honest liberal.


10 posted on 07/12/2013 1:52:09 PM PDT by Blood of Tyrants (Inside every liberal and WOD defender is a totalitarian screaming to get out.)
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To: nickcarraway

Barry Sotero’s genuine BC, apparently.


11 posted on 07/12/2013 1:53:29 PM PDT by TADSLOS (The Event Horizon has come and gone. Buckle up and hang on.)
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To: nickcarraway

8 hours, that’s about the half life of the prosecution’s case in the Zimmerman trial.


12 posted on 07/12/2013 1:55:45 PM PDT by DannyTN
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To: freedomfiter2

LOL about feminist you would want to marry.

off topic, but too many feminists are too hostile, too antagonistic, too much into the my way or the highway approach to men and relationships.

There’s anecdotal evidence that these services which provide foreign brides to American men are doing a big business. I’m not surprised.


13 posted on 07/12/2013 1:56:24 PM PDT by Dilbert San Diego
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To: Kenton

Where?


14 posted on 07/12/2013 1:57:44 PM PDT by BipolarBob
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To: nickcarraway

“What is so rare it has never been seen directly, because if you could get enough of it together, it would self-vaporize from its own radioactive heat?”

Madonna’s virginity?


15 posted on 07/12/2013 2:02:01 PM PDT by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ( Ya can't pick up a turd by the clean end!)
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To: nickcarraway

A MORAL Democrat!


16 posted on 07/12/2013 2:03:58 PM PDT by Ann Archy (Abortion.....the HUMAN Sacrifice to the god of Convenience.)
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To: icwhatudo

I SWEAR...SWEAR I did NOT see your post before I posted mine...I SWEAR!!


17 posted on 07/12/2013 2:04:44 PM PDT by Ann Archy (Abortion.....the HUMAN Sacrifice to the god of Convenience.)
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To: Dilbert San Diego

off topic, but too many feminists are too hostile, too antagonistic, too much into the my way or the highway approach to men and relationships.

Sometimes, these women have a legitimate complaint based on their past experiences with men. The problem is that the new man takes the abuse for something a father or old boyfriend did. Life’s too short to sign up for that.


18 posted on 07/12/2013 2:07:01 PM PDT by freedomfiter2 (Brutal acts of commission and yawning acts of omission both strengthen the hand of the devil.)
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To: BipolarBob
Where?

I dunno, I haven't been able to find any since the last presidential election. Cheaper Than Dirt has some at prices about 10 X the normal price, and there are a few individuals on various BBs selling them at inflated prices, but other than that, they've disappeared.

I've got a Sig Mosquito and a M&P 15-22 that will cycle nothing else, making them useless without CCI Mini Mags.

19 posted on 07/12/2013 2:18:06 PM PDT by Kenton
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To: nickcarraway

Diamonds aren’t that rare. If DeBeers sold their entire stock you could buy them in vending machines next to gum and Skittles.


20 posted on 07/12/2013 2:20:27 PM PDT by Fledermaus (Note to the NSA: I approved this dissention. What are you going to do about it Punks?)
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To: nickcarraway

The First Wookiee’s sex appeal ?


21 posted on 07/12/2013 2:21:05 PM PDT by fieldmarshaldj (Resist We Much)
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To: fieldmarshaldj

A Christian Liberal??


22 posted on 07/12/2013 2:29:55 PM PDT by Rca2000
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To: nickcarraway

Oh. I thought you said “Al”.

But he’s easy to find, too plentiful, and he doesn’ self-vaporize.


23 posted on 07/12/2013 2:29:58 PM PDT by Hardraade (http://junipersec.wordpress.com (Obama equals Osama))
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To: Fledermaus

Diamond grillz for the whole Trayvon tribe?


24 posted on 07/12/2013 2:31:20 PM PDT by Hardraade (http://junipersec.wordpress.com (Obama equals Osama))
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To: Kenton

http://www.gunbot.net/ammo/22lr/


25 posted on 07/12/2013 2:48:32 PM PDT by BipolarBob
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To: nickcarraway
Looks like "iStockphoto.com"ium is even rarer!
26 posted on 07/12/2013 2:56:24 PM PDT by SES1066 (Government governs best when it governs least!)
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To: BipolarBob

Thanks! Not many CCI Minimags though, and $.40 per round for ammo that usually go for around 7 cents is still pretty steep.


27 posted on 07/12/2013 2:57:27 PM PDT by Kenton
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To: Kenton

Timing is everything. You have to watch it through the week.


28 posted on 07/12/2013 3:03:44 PM PDT by BipolarBob
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To: Rca2000
A Christian Liberal??

I dunno, God seems pretty generous. He even says that he gives liberally, see James 1. ;)

(Seriously, I hate liberal and conservative as political descriptors: conservative is pretty bad because keeping things the same falls within the proper definition [further: many conservatives really don't want to return to founding principles, just look at their stance on the War on Drugs, which is utterly against founding principles]; the liberal mentality, on the other hand, tends to refer to the most illiberal of philosophies [statism].)

29 posted on 07/12/2013 3:09:45 PM PDT by OneWingedShark (Q: Why am I here? A: To do Justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.)
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To: Ann Archy

Great minds think alike :)


30 posted on 07/12/2013 3:14:22 PM PDT by icwhatudo (Low taxes and less spending in Sodom and Gomorrah is not my idea of a conservative victory)
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To: BipolarBob

Will do, and again, thanks.


31 posted on 07/12/2013 3:19:14 PM PDT by Kenton
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To: nickcarraway

Scientific evidence of manmade Global Warming


32 posted on 07/12/2013 3:21:10 PM PDT by PATRIOT1876 (The only crimes that are 100% preventable are crimes committed by illegal aliens)
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To: nickcarraway

The Hardest thing to find in the universe?

Oh that’s easy.

A: Your tax money after the govt pisses it away on foolishness.


33 posted on 07/12/2013 3:25:33 PM PDT by Bullish (Psalm 46)
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To: nickcarraway

Seinfeld would say it rhymes with Deloris.


34 posted on 07/12/2013 3:30:45 PM PDT by Carl from Marietta
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To: nickcarraway

A soft bun when you’re down to the last hotdog in the pack.


35 posted on 07/12/2013 3:33:13 PM PDT by Yardstick
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To: Fledermaus

I like blue diamonds and often thought about how many white diamonds there are in all the stores in all the malls, etc. Not impressed.


36 posted on 07/12/2013 4:01:52 PM PDT by huldah1776
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To: mdittmar

Hear! Hear!


37 posted on 07/12/2013 4:33:22 PM PDT by Roccus (POLITICIAN...............a four letter word spelled with ten letters.)
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To: Da Coyote; Buckeye McFrog
“John Boehner’s testicles”

One cannot find that which does not exist, grasshopper.

Oh, they exist, they just cannot be accessed...


38 posted on 07/12/2013 4:39:28 PM PDT by COBOL2Java (I'm a Christian, pro-life, pro-gun, Reaganite. The GOP hates me. Why should I vote for them?)
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To: nickcarraway

A receipt showing that the grifters in the WH ever paid for anything with their own money.


39 posted on 07/12/2013 5:27:20 PM PDT by Old Yeller (Goodbye America. Glad the majority of my years were spent during the good days.)
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To: 6SJ7; AdmSmith; AFPhys; Arkinsaw; allmost; aristotleman; autumnraine; backwoods-engineer; ...

Thanks nickcarraway.
"At" stands for astatine. It is an element with 85 protons packed into its nucleus... Almost as soon as they squeeze together bits of nuclear material get spat out, or get added, and poof! It isn't astatine any longer. This element has a half life of roughly 8 hours...

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40 posted on 07/12/2013 6:43:15 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (McCain or Romney would have been worse, if you're a dumb ass.)
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To: nickcarraway

Legal Mexican.


41 posted on 07/12/2013 6:45:13 PM PDT by deadrock (I am someone else.)
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To: KevinDavis; annie laurie; Knitting A Conundrum; Viking2002; Ernest_at_the_Beach; Mmogamer; ...

Thanks nickcarraway.
Rarer than any metal, any mineral, so rare that if you scan the entire earth, all six million billion billion kilos or 13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds of our planet, you would find only one ounce of it? What is so rare it has never been seen directly, because if you could get enough of it together, it would self-vaporize from its own radioactive heat?
 
X-Planets
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42 posted on 07/12/2013 6:46:36 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (McCain or Romney would have been worse, if you're a dumb ass.)
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To: nickcarraway
.


a "Christian" black american who gets his-her racist-hating head out of their kazoo to correctly adjudicate the faggot-sodomite black-baby-murdering islamic terrorist "Barrack Hussein Obama" ...


.
43 posted on 07/12/2013 7:01:24 PM PDT by Patton@Bastogne (Swine Piss be upon the Sodmite Obama, and his Child-Rapist False Prophet Mohammed)
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