American and Italian physicists have found that the mineral trinitite, formed at the epicenter of the explosion of the first atomic bomb, contains particles of a hitherto unknown type of quasicrystals – an exotic form of matter. The study was published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.
“These quasicrystals are the first example of such man-made structures. As with those found in samples in Chukotka due to the fall of the Hatir meteorite, this form of matter can occur at ultra-high pressures and temperatures.”
Quasicrystals are a special form of matter that does not fit into the classical principles of crystallography. Their existence was predicted mathematically about half a century ago by Israeli researcher Daniel Shechtman, for which he became the 2011 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.
For decades, scientists have tried unsuccessfully to find examples of the existence of quasicrystals in nature. This task was not solved until ten years ago, when a team led by Paul Steinhardt, a professor at Princeton University, came across a sample of a quasicrystal in the mineral hatirkite, mined in Chukotka.
The quasicrystal formed inside a meteorite crater, where the rocks were heated to 1,200 degrees Celsius and at atmospheric pressures 100,000 times bigger. Finding quasicrystals in hatirkite, Steinhart and his colleagues wondered if they could be present in another unusual mineral, trinitite.
It originated in July 1945 at the Alamogordo test site after the explosion of Trinity, the first atomic bomb with a capacity equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT.
The explosion formed a crater in which a temperature of 1500 degrees and a pressure exceeding the atmospheric several tens of thousands of times developed.
Steinhart and his colleagues found quasicrystals in one of the trinitite specimens collected from the test site before the end of World War II.
According to scientists, these mineral particles were formed after the evaporation of the copper cables that connected the scientific instruments of the Manhattan Project with the observation post built a few kilometers from the epicenter of the explosion.
Thus a hitherto unknown form of quasicrystals was formed, consisting of atoms of silicon, copper, calcium, and iron. In their properties and appearance, they are close to those structures that Steinhart’s team found in the deposits of hatirkitе. This shows the similar principles of their formation.
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