Asteroids, those mysterious celestial bodies that inhabit our solar system, have long captivated the imagination of scientists and astronomers alike. Recently, researchers at the Department of Physics, The University of Arizona, Tucson, U.S., made a groundbreaking discovery regarding the composition of some asteroids. They propose that these asteroids may be composed of ultradense matter, possibly consisting of superheavy elements that defy the boundaries of conventional physics. In this article, we will explore the implications of this finding, uncover the potential properties of these ultradense objects, and shed light on the exciting field of space mining.
Jan Rafelski and his team utilized the Thomas-Fermi model of atomic structure to simulate the properties of superheavy elements with atomic numbers higher than what is currently known. Their research focused on a theoretical “island of nuclear stability” predicted to exist at around atomic number Z=164. By extending their calculations to include more exotic forms of ultradense material, the team aimed to unlock the mysteries concealed within these compact cosmic entities. The results of their work have been published in The European Physical Journal Plus.
Superheavy elements, characterized by a high number of protons, are divided into two groups. The first group, with atomic numbers between 105 and 118, has been created experimentally but is highly radioactive and unstable. These elements only serve academic and research purposes due to their extremely short half-lives. The second group, encompassing elements with atomic numbers above 118, remains unobserved; however, their properties have been theorized. Notably, the “island of nuclear stability” predicts a stable element at Z=164, suggesting the existence of ultradenese matter. Given that the density of elements generally increases with atomic mass, these superheavy elements could potentially exhibit extraordinary density.
Objects with densities surpassing those of known elements are classified as “compact ultradense objects” or CUDOs. The most extreme example known to date is asteroid 33 Polyhymnia, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Researchers have calculated its density to be approximately 75 g/cm3. To explain such high densities, Rafelski postulates that Polyhymnia and similar asteroids may be composed of elements exceeding Z=118, supplemented by other unidentified forms of ultradense matter.
To delve deeper into the atomic structure of ultraheavy elements, Rafelski and his team applied the relativistic Thomas-Fermi model. Despite its inherent limitations, this model allows for the systematic exploration of atomic behavior beyond the confines of the periodic table. It also provided the researchers with the opportunity to conduct extensive simulations in a relatively short timeframe. Their calculations confirmed the hypothesis that elements with approximately 164 protons in their nuclei could exhibit stability. Furthermore, the model suggested a density range of 36.0 to 68.4 g/cm3 for a stable element at Z=164, approaching the density of asteroid Polyhymnia.
Expanding their model beyond superheavy elements, the researchers investigated the charge distribution within atomic nuclei. This enabled them to simulate even more exotic substances, including alpha matter, a unique condensate comprised solely of isolated helium nuclei. By exploring the properties of such materials, Rafelski’s team shed light on the potential composition of ultradenese asteroids, propelling the field of space mining into a new realm of possibilities.
The discovery that some asteroids may be composed of materials unknown on Earth has sparked interest among potential space miners. These entrepreneurs envision extracting precious metals like gold, which are believed to be concentrated near the surface of certain asteroids. Rafelski’s work challenges the notion of “unobtainium,” a label historically assigned to highly unstable or unobserved superheavy elements. With the prospect of mining ultradenese asteroids, the limitations of obtaining these elusive elements may soon be overcome.
As our understanding of the universe expands, the enigmatic nature of asteroids continues to captivate and challenge scientists. The investigation into ultradenese asteroids promises to uncover new realms of physics and pave the way for innovative space ventures. From the depths of the unknown to the potential wealth hidden among the stars, these celestial bodies hold the key to our comprehension of the cosmos.