The Hunt For an Island of Stability Hits a Sandbar

So, I’m gonna go periodic on your asses today, dear galleons.

Of the 118 elements gracing our current periodic table, only 92 of them are known to occur naturally (plutonium, number 94, is the heaviest naturally occurring element). The remainder are known as transuranium elements and have only been made by fusing smaller atoms and nuclei together. These superheavy elements exist only fleetingly, breaking down into smaller elements almost instantly.

However, Amnon Marinov of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem thinks there are stable, naturally-occurring traces of roentgenium (atomic number 111) in gold. Marinov claims that “element 111 is chemically similar to gold and so ought to be found in tiny quantities in any lump of the glittering stuff”.

What are you hiding, you shiny son of a bitch?

Here’s how Marinov made his discovery:

He heated the gold to 1127ºC (63º above its melting point), then he left it in a vacuum, hypothesizing that the gold atoms would evaporate faster than the roentgenium atoms simply because they are lighter. Two weeks later, he passed what remained atom-by-atom through a mass spectrometer, to determine its composition. He could account for everything in the mix except for one peak with an atomic weight of 261. This corresponds to roentgenium, and Marinov says this proves its discovery.

Theoretically, there should be a so-called “island of stability” where even the superheavy elements become stable. This has fueled the race for scientists to create even heavier elements in an attempt to discover this island of stability.

Marinov, however, is stating that these superheavy elements could already exist in nature, island of stability be damned. But this poses a problem, because we don’t know where these superheavy elements could possibly have come from. A 2008 edition of New Scientist reported, “Even the high pressure and temperature in exploding stars – which can form elements as heavy as uranium – may not be capable of creating a superheavy element.”

Then again, this isn’t the first time Marinov has claimed to find a naturally-occurring superheavy element. In 2008, he claimed to have detected element 122 (yes, an element heavier than any previously created) in a solution of thorium. However, his claim was met with enormous scepticism, and scientists were unimpressed by the evidence for his claim.

So, exciting new science or another false alarm? Guess we’ll find out.

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