Justice Must Be Done.
The prior election must be acknowledged as fraudulent, and steps must be taken to prosecute the fraudsters and restore integrity to the system.
Nothing else matters at this point. Talking about trying again in 2022 or 2024 is hopeless otherwise. Which is not to say one must never talk about this, but rather that one must account for this in ones planning; if fixing the fraud is not part of the plan, you have no plan.
Kamala Harris has a new nickname since she finally went west from DC to El Paso Texas: Westward Hoe.
Lawyer Appeasement Section
OK now for the fine print.
This is the WQTH Daily Thread. You know the drill. There’s no Poltical correctness, but civility is a requirement. There are Important Guidelines, here, with an addendum on 20191110.
We have a new board – called The U Tree – where people can take each other to the woodshed without fear of censorship or moderation.
And remember Wheatie’s Rules:
1. No food fights
2. No running with scissors.
3. If you bring snacks, bring enough for everyone.
4. Zeroth rule of gun safety: Don’t let the government get your guns.
5. Rule one of gun safety: The gun is always loaded.
5a. If you actually want the gun to be loaded, like because you’re checking out a bump in the night, then it’s empty.
6. Rule two of gun safety: Never point the gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
7. Rule three: Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
8. Rule the fourth: Be sure of your target and what is behind it.
(Hmm a few extras seem to have crept in.)
All prices are Kitco Ask, 3PM MT Friday (at that time the markets close for the weekend).
This week, markets closed for the weekend at 3:00 PM Mountain Time
The net result of the last week is mostly stability. Rhodium did dip below $19K but has blipped back up over it. (EDITED: these numbers were wrong until about 0330 Saturday, because I forgot to edit them.)
The Endgame for Classical Physics
Physics before 1900 is known as “Classical Physics.” It still works as well as we used to think it did–provided you are working on every day scales. Go very small, very fast, or very massive and you discover that classical physics is an approximation very close to the truth for things that aren’t very small, very fast, or very massive, so very close that one can practically ignore the difference.
What happened around 1900? We started investigating things outside that zone.
Our daily lives exist in that zone though some of our tech goes into places where non-classical physics must be accounted for. In fact no semiconductor would work if modern physics weren’t true, and you wouldn’t be reading these words because no dead-tree leftist gatekeeper publisher would have me.
Yes. This is the day. This is the day we don’t stop at 1895.
Go Back: Avogadro’s Number
I made the claim that no one had any idea as to the size of Avogadro’s number before 1895. As a reminder, this is the number of molecules of some compound with an “atomic weight” of X, in an X gram sample of it, or almost equivalently, the number of atomic mass units in a gram. Taking oxygen as an example, it forms a two-atom molecule, O2 whose atomic mass by definition was 32 atomic mass units. How many O2 molecules in 32 grams? The answer to that, whatever it is, is Avogadro’s number.
It turns out that in 1865 Josef Loschmidt was able to make an argument about at least the approximate size of atoms and how far apart they had to be in comparison for a gas to behave as a gas and was somehow able to figure out how many molecules of a gas were in one liter of it, at standard temperature and pressure.
But since we already know that 22.4 liters of gas under the same conditions is one mole, so simply multiplying Loschmidt’s number by 22.4 gives you Avogadro’s number, the number of molecules of anything in a mole of that thing.
The modern value of Loschmidt’s number is 2.6867811(15)×1025 per cubic meter, but there are a thousand liters in a cubic meter, so 2.687×1022 works well enough for our purposes.
Apparently Loschmidt himself didn’t go all the way through the reasoning to get the number, it was left to people like James Clerk Maxwell (whose name had better sound familiar by now) to cite a figure of “about 19 million million million” per cm3, or 1.9×1025 m-3. Which is a bit over 29% too low, but really, given that we had no way of directly measuring it before then, was pretty good.
So contrary to what I said, we did have some idea what Avogadro’s number was.
Today, the mole is one of the seven fundamental units of the SI (metric system) and is defined to be precisely 6.02214076×1023 particles (i.e., roughly 22.4 times Loschmidt’s number. If it should turn out that that many atoms of (say) atomic mass 12 doesn’t quite mass 12 grams, tough. (We know it’s pretty doggone close though, so high school chemistry lab can ignore the difference. Besides the proportions will be right even if NA isn’t quite where it “should” be.)
OK, that’s out of the way.
The Crookes Tube
Today there are actually four…well, three and a half…stories to be told, and the Crookes tube is tied up in two of them.
What is a Crookes tube? Well, it’s sort of like the “cathode ray tube” no one uses for televisions and computer monitors any more. Or any of a host of other vacuum tubes.
It was first created sometime before 1869, and it was a geek toy par excellence. Take a large, oblong glass tube, run two conductors into it, one near each end. Seal it off and pump almost all of the air out. I’d guess they pumped as much air as they could out of it, but couldn’t get the last millionth out of it. As it turns out it won’t work if it’s a total vacuum.
Now put a ten thousand volt potential between the two conductors. The one hooked up to positive is called the anode, the negative one is the cathode.
You get an eerie green glow on the end of the tube that’s behind the anode.
Now that was interesting, what was going on here? There wasn’t any current flowing. So physicists started tinkering. By putting a cutout of a Maltese cross near the anode (done by Julius Pluecker in 1869) and noting that the green glowing part of the glass had Maltese cross-shaped “shadow” in it, it was proved that whatever it was was traveling in a straight line away from the anode and past the cathode, and some of the “rays” were being blocked by the Maltese cross. (And nowadays any time someone draws a diagram of a Crookes tube in action, they always show it with a Maltese cross; and even the one demoed in the picture below uses it; it’s some sort of cliche now.)
The straight line travel and the fact that glows like this (“fluorescence”) were thus far known to only be caused by ultraviolet light, led some to conclude that these rays were electromagnetic in nature. Others thought that the rays might just be charged atoms.
In 1876 Eugen Goldstein experimented with different shapes of cathode, (a point, a flat surface he could tilt, and so on) and was able to prove that the rays behaved like charged particles. Some sort of electromagnetism would leave every point on the surface going in every direction (which is why you see the whole light bulb not just the point that faces you full on), but if the cathode were a flat surface the rays would all come out perpendicular to the surface, as if they were particles repelled by that surface. Of course, it’s a negatively charged surface, so the particles repelled by it would be negatively charged.
Goldstein gave them the name “cathode rays.”
Heinrich Hertz, who, you’ll remember, discovered radio and though it was useless, decided to try another experiment to see whether the “rays” were particles, or some sort of electromagnetism. He put two other plates inside the tube on either side of the beam and put an electrical potential across the plates. The electrical field between the plates should bend the beam, if it were particles. He didn’t see it happen, but it turned out his apparatus just wasn’t good enough. Later Arthur Shuster repeated the experiment with a better vacuum in the tube and did see the bending. So the “particle” side of the argument was looking better and better.
Crookes himself put magnets on either side of the tube and got the beam to deflect in accordance with:
F = v ⨉ B
(You know, the right hand rule and all that.)
That just made the “particle” theory even better.
So there that stood at the end of 1894. But this time we aren’t going to stop there!
We had, up to this time, identified at least the following conservation laws that applied to any closed system (one where nothing could get in or out).
- Conservation of mass
- Conservation of momentum
- Conservation of energy
- Conservation of electric charge
- Conservation of angular momentum
The following mysteries were unanswered at the end of 1894.
- Why was the long axis of Mercury’s orbit precessing more than expected, by 43 arcseconds every century? Was it, indeed, a planet even closer to the sun? If so, it’d have been nice to actually see it.
- Why was Michelson unable to measure any difference in speed of light despite the fact we, being on planet Earth that is orbiting the sun, had to be moving through the medium in which it propagates?
- What makes the sun (and other stars) shine (beyond the obvious “they shine because they’re hot” answer). What keeps the sun hot, what energy is it harnessing?
- How did the solar system form? Any answer to this must account for how the planets, only a tiny fraction of the mass of the solar system, ended up with the vast majority of the angular momentum in the system.
- What is the electrical “fluid” that moves around when there is an electric current, and that somehow seems imbalanced when we perceive that an object has a charge? Were there both negative and positive fluids, or just one fluid that had a natural neutral level; below it was negative (deficit), above it was positive (excess)?
- Why are there so many different kinds of atoms? How did electrical charges relate to chemistry? How is it that 94 thousand coulombs of charge are needed to bust apart certain molecules (though it often had to be delivered at different voltages depending on the molecule)?
- Why were the atomic weights almost always a multiple of hydrogen’s? Why was it never quite a perfect multiple? Why was it sometimes nowhere near to being a multiple?
- (and the 8 disappears?) Why does the photoelectric effect work the way it does, where it depends on the frequency of the light hitting the object, not the intensity?
- Why does black body radiation have a “hump” in its frequency graph?
And remember we left the story of Ramsay hanging at the end of 1894, as he decided to look for other elements in the new “Group 0” of the periodic table, now represented by argon, whose mass was between that of chlorine and potassium.
And with that recap out of the way…
In November of this year, Wilhelm Röntgen was investigating all sorts of different “tubes,” the Crookes tube among them. He noticed that he could fashion an aluminum sheet with a rectangular window in it and block the cathode rays, but if he placed a board painted with barium platinocyanide ([Pt(CN)4]2−) near the window, the chemical would glow. Something was getting out of the tube and causing fluorescence.
On November 8th (a Friday) he decided to investigate further. He covered a Crookes tube with cardboard to block the light it was emitting (so he thought!), fashioned a similar window, ensured that the cardboard cover was completely covered by darkening his lab and looking for leaks. There were none, but he noticed an odd shimmering out of the corner of his eye. Striking a match, he realized it was his barium platinocyanide.
Over the next couple of days, he discovered that if the tube was firing while a piece of lead were in front of the barium platinocyanide, the lead cast a shadow (even though the cardboard around the tube clearly didn’t block the radiation, the lead did.) He also noticed quite by accident he could see the bones in his own hand by interjecting it between the tube and the barium platinocyanide. That was spooky, spooky enough to get Roentgen to conduct his experiments in secrecy until he was sure of what he had.
Since he didn’t know what these things were he called them X-rays; X often stood for “unknown.” Now that we know what they are, we still call them X-rays, though some also call them Roentgen waves.
The first ever X ray photograph was of his wife’s hand; when she saw her own skeleton she exclaimed that she had seen her death.
As it turned out X rays are also electromagnetic waves, they are of an even shorter wavelength/higher frequency than ultraviolet rays. “Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10 picometers to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz (30×1015 Hz to 30×1018 Hz)” (Wikipedia. A picometer is 1/1000th of a nanometer or one trillionth of a meter, a petahertz is a quadrillion cycles per second. Remember that visible light runs from 400,000 to 700,000 picometers.)
The Crookes tube was no longer a nerd toy. It was now a piece of medical equipment, and it was in practical use within months, probably the fastest a basic physics discovery has ever been exploited. On January 11th, barely three months after Roentgen started investigating the Crookes tube, it was used by someone else (John Hall Edwards of Birmingham, England) to find a needle embedded in a patient’s hand.
This wasn’t some obscure thing; it made the newspapers and this was before they were all fake news.
X rays were going to become a very useful research tool outside of medicine.
Roentgen received the very first Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901, because of this discovery that had turned out to be so very useful right away.
And let us pick up our story of Group 0. Ramsay was preparing to look for more of these gases in the air, but during this year two Swedish chemists, Per Teodor Cleve and Nils Abraham Langlet, discovered a gas emanating from cleveite, an ore of uranium. On further investigation, this gas was totally non-reactive, and had an atomic weight of about 4. Well, that is perfectly midway between hydrogen (1) and lithium (7), and logically the top of that “Group 0” should be an element in between these two, so, very cool, the top of the column was in place. There was a gap between it and argon, and nothing below argon in the column was filled in yet. Ramsay would find neon, krypton and xenon in very, very tiny percentages in our atmosphere, and there’s even a bit of this top gas.
But we didn’t have to figure out a name for this gas. Because when we put some of it in a tube and got it to glow, and took the spectrograph…it turned out to be helium, the mystery element known from the solar spectrum!!! It wasn’t a metal after all, but a gas; logically it should be named “helion” (to match the -on ending of the other gases in that column), but…too late!
Our main character here is Henri Becquerel (1852-1908), who was fascinated by phosphorescence. This was the way an object could absorb one wavelength of light for some period of time, then glow in a different wavelength for a time afterwards, as if the light “pumps up” the chemical which then gets rid of the energy later. He heard about X rays (who could hear anything else in the din) early in 1896 and thought, perhaps some chemicals might phosphoresce in X-rays after being pumped up in ultraviolet light, like from the sun.
Well this was easy to test. Wrap photographic plates up in paper, so that ordinary light and even UV cannot get in. Pump up a candidate mineral, then put it next to the photographic plate. If it is emitting X rays, those should fog the plate even through the paper.
Becquerel’s candidate material was uranium salts, which phosphoresced very nicely in visible light. He just needed a bright day to perform the experiment.
At which point, in Paris, it got cloudy. No bright sunlight to run the experiment in! He put the plates and the uranium salts in a drawer, and waited for good weather, smoke no doubt pouring from his ears.
After a days of this crap, he decided, “Aw, what the hell!” and developed the photographic plate.
This has to be the most consequential “Aw, what the hell!” moment in history.
The plate had blackened right next to his sample. It even bore the outline of a Maltese cross (OK, someone come up with a new idea), which was there to prove the fogging came from the sample, not some other cause–though the cross didn’t block the rays completely.
Something had blasted through the paper and reacted with the chemicals on the photographic plate. Something that didn’t need to be pumped up–or something that stayed pumped up.
This had actually been noticed back in 1857, by a friend of Becquerel’s family…who didn’t pursue it very far.
Becquerel did. And the world was never the same again.
Further experiments established it didn’t have to be a phosphorescent compound of uranium; any compound of uranium would do this. Pure uranium would do this. This had to do with uranium, and uranium would do this no matter what. By May of 1896 Becquerel had realized this, and published his results, and now the world knew of “Becquerel rays” which we now call “radioactivity.”
His own words from the 2nd of March
I will insist particularly upon the following fact, which seems to me quite important and beyond the phenomena which one could expect to observe: The same crystalline crusts [of potassium uranyl sulfate], arranged the same way with respect to the photographic plates, in the same conditions and through the same screens, but sheltered from the excitation of incident rays and kept in darkness, still produce the same photographic images. Here is how I was led to make this observation: among the preceding experiments, some had been prepared on Wednesday the 26th and Thursday the 27th of February, and since the sun was out only intermittently on these days, I kept the apparatuses prepared and returned the cases to the darkness of a bureau drawer, leaving in place the crusts of the uranium salt. Since the sun did not come out in the following days, I developed the photographic plates on the 1st of March, expecting to find the images very weak. Instead the silhouettes appeared with great intensity … One hypothesis which presents itself to the mind naturally enough would be to suppose that these rays, whose effects have a great similarity to the effects produced by the rays studied by M. Lenard and M. Röntgen, are invisible rays emitted by phosphorescence and persisting infinitely longer than the duration of the luminous rays emitted by these bodies. However, the present experiments, without being contrary to this hypothesis, do not warrant this conclusion. I hope that the experiments which I am pursuing at the moment will be able to bring some clarification to this new class of phenomena.Henri Becquerel
Marie Sklodowska Curie (who is definitely not the subject of any “Polish joke”) was looking for a doctoral thesis topic and decided to investigate. Her husband Pierre Curie had invented an electrometer, a very sensitive device for studying electrical charge. She discovered that the air around a uranium sample was able to carry a current–the radiation was somehow making the air charged. Careful measurements revealed that the amount of radiation was directly proportional to the uranium in the compound. But this was a compound created in the lab.
And by 1898 she had noticed that thorium, too, was radioactive, though in this case she was scooped two months before by Gerhard Carl Schmidt.
Going to an ore that had had uranium in it for a long time, however, turned out different. The ore was four times as radioactive as the uranium that was in it. There was something else in the ore, something unknown, that was radioactive.
Her husband, Pierre, became so intrigued he dropped his own work on crystals to pursue this. They started with a carefully-weighted 100 grams of pitchblende.
They ended up going through tons of pitchblende. There was so little of what they were searching for that they needed to process that much pitchblende to find enough to actually experiment with.
In July 1898, they announced the existence of the element polonium. On December 26th, they announced radium. These were both elements of atomic weight higher than lead and bismuth, but below uranium (and there had been a big empty gap there in the weight sequence).
It took Marie Curie until 1910 to get a pure radium sample, and she never did manage to drag enough polonium together to constitute a “sample.”
Becquerel and the two Curies got the 1903 Nobel Prize for Physics for their work on these phenomena.
Pierre was killed in a traffic accident in 1906; Marie ultimately received the 1911 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. she was the first to get a second Nobel, and is still one of just two people who have received two different categories of Nobel prize.
And this was just the beginning of what came of Becquerel’s What the Hell moment. We owe the nuclear bomb and the nuclear power plant and our entire knowledge of nuclear physics (and physics even smaller than that) to this moment.
What would have happened had he not done this? How long would it have taken?
Not all that long. Another scientist, it turned out was mere weeks behind him; if Becquerel had tarried publishing, he’d have been scooped. And if that hadn’t been the case, well someone would have noticed eventually, and pursued it.
This was rather surprising to me. It seemed as if this discovery were a freak accident that could have waited another couple of centuries to happen. It’s often used as the perfect example of serendipity; something turning up unexpectedly, but in front of a man with the imagination and intelligence to pursue it. (Read, sometime, the story of the discovery of teflon. Or penicillin.) Instead of that, it’s actually a discovery whose time had come.
The man of this chapter was J. J. Thomson (1856-1840), and he too liked to play with Crookes tubes. He worked at the Cavendish laboratory (we’ve heard that before, haven’t we?).
He did some very careful, exacting work with both magnetic and electric deflection of the cathode rays. He used an electromagnet so he could vary the strength of the magnetic field (rather than simply bringing in a big permanent magnet). He then varied the electric field and the magnetic field until he got both deflections to be the same angle. His goal was to determine the charge-to-mass ratio of whatever particles were in the cathode rays.
The formula for the electric deflection is:
Θ = E e ℓ / mv2
While the magnetic deflection is:
Θ = B e ℓ / mv
Where Θ was the angle of the deflection, E the strength of the electric field, B the strength of the magnetic field, ℓ the length of the plates applying the deflection, m the mass of the particle, and v its velocity, and e the electric charge of the particle.
If the two angles are equal then we can write:
E e ℓ / mv2 = B e ℓ / mv
A lot of simplification and substitutions can reduce this down to:
m/e = B2ℓ / E Θ
The magnetic and electric field strengths were known, as was the length of the plates, and the angle of the deflection, so we now had the mass to charge (or charge to mass) ratio of these cathode rays.
It’s generally quoted as charge to mass, and its modern best value is −1.75882001076(53)×1011 C/kg.
Which means that a single gram of cathode ray “stuff” has a charge of −1.75882001076(53)×108 coulombs.
So that was pretty definitive, cathode rays are made of negatively charged particles.
Now if we step back to Faraday, who figured out that 96,485.3 colombs would break up one mole of electrical bonds, or as by now was realized, was the charge of one mole (one gram) of hydrogen, when the hydrogen had a positive charge, i.e., was a positive hydrogen ion.
The same charge on a cathode ray stuff would be carried by 0.000548 grams of cathode ray stuff.
The conclusion was that the cathode rays consisted of particles that weighed 0.05 percent as much as a hydrogen atom, or (taking the reciprocal) that a hydrogen ion had about 1823 times the mass of a cathode ray particle. (The actual value is closer to 1836, but that’s because a mole of hydrogen does not weigh exactly one gram.) Thomson actually got a value closer to a thousand, but it was still a striking figure.
Now up to this point, atoms were regarded as simple, indivisible things, that could get an electric charge to be sure, but were nevertheless indivisible. Now there had been scientists who had speculated that atoms might be made up of smaller things (William Prout and Norman Lockyer, for instance) but in the absence of any real evidence that’s all it was, speculation. Prout and Lockyer had figured the smaller building block was probably about the mass of a hydrogen atom, so basically hydrogen contained one of these items, helium four, lithium seven, and so on. (Of course they couldn’t explain why the ratios weren’t perfect clean integers and couldn’t explain the elements with large fractions (like a half) in their atomic weights.)
It appeared that the Crookes tube operated by knocking a very, very small chip off of an atom, a chip bearing a huge negative charge. The remainder of the atom had to bear a positive charge that matched. Certainly nothing as substantial as an entire hydrogen atom!
(However, Prout and Lockyer weren’t completely wrong, as we will eventually see.)
JJ Thomson in his own words (extracted from Wikipoo):
As the cathode rays carry a charge of negative electricity, are deflected by an electrostatic force as if they were negatively electrified, and are acted on by a magnetic force in just the way in which this force would act on a negatively electrified body moving along the path of these rays, I can see no escape from the conclusion that they are charges of negative electricity carried by particles of matter.J J Thomsen
As to the source of these particles, Thomson believed they emerged from the molecules of gas in the vicinity of the cathode.
If, in the very intense electric field in the neighbourhood of the cathode, the molecules of the gas are dissociated and are split up, not into the ordinary chemical atoms, but into these primordial atoms, which we shall for brevity call corpuscles; and if these corpuscles are charged with electricity and projected from the cathode by the electric field, they would behave exactly like the cathode rays.J J Thomson
The new particle came to be known as the electron (not a “corpuscle”) and it soon became clear that this was our “electrical fluid.” You may very well use this word or its derivatives every day (it’s part of electronic, and that’s not a coincidental pun, the word electronic was derived from the word electron), but 125 years ago the word did not exist.
Any positively charged particle that could be ginned up in a tube (and there were indeed some even in Crookes tubes, these were known as canal rays) were basically atoms or even whole molecules with a positive charge. The measurement precision was too poor then to tell for sure, but these positively charged particles were simply a little light, because they were minus an electron. Or two, or perhaps even three.
Thomson concluded that an atom consisted of some number of electrons, embedded in a larger mass that had a positive charge; it’s called the “plum pudding” model to this day (actually, raisins but you know…the Brits).
Now we’ve wiped out one of our mysteries, number 5 above, and we now had an inkling of what was going on between atoms. A sodium atom, for example, could give up one electron and become a positively charged ion, a chlorine atom would scoop it up, and become a negatively charged ion. If enough of these transactions happened, you could crystallize all of these ions into a cube of table salt, or you could dissolve it and there’d be slightly light, positively charge sodium atoms and slightly heavy, negatively charged chlorine atoms floating around in the water. Since the total charge still came out to zero, drinking salt water wouldn’t electrocute you (but could kill you in other ways).
Generally, in an electrical circuit, it’s the negative electrons that move around, not the positive ions. So Franklin was right, there was one fluid. But he guessed wrong, too, in assigning the “negative” label to what turned out to be the fluid. But then Du Fay wasn’t completely wrong either; because there was clearly a positively charged thing out there, the bulk of the atom.
If you remember when I was talking about electricity, with the movement of the fluid, I implicitly assumed the fluid was positively charged, and moved from the positive terminal of the battery (or other power source) through the circuit to the negative terminal. So basically, I should go back and trash all those diagrams, right?
Nope. It turns out it’s mathematically equivalent to the real situation, with a negatively charged bunch of electrons flowing from the negative terminal to the positive terminal. Electrical engineers still simply pretend a positively charged current flows from positive to negative, because the math is exactly the same as running a negatively charged current from negative to positive.(Ask me how I know this.) It makes no actual difference. There are situations where it really does matter that the stuff that is moving is negatively charged, but that’s getting into semiconductors, and you’re moving from the realm of electrical circuits to electron-ic circuits.
Thomson showed in 1906 that the uncharged hydrogen atom contained exactly one electron. No more, no less. There was no way to knock two electrons out of it, as some had thought.
In 1905 he showed that natural potassium was radioactive.
He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1906.
Alpha, Beta Gamma
OK, let’s return to radioactivity.
In 1899, right after the Curies found polonium and radium (unlike Vladimir Putin, Marie Curie killed herself with the stuff, eventually dying of cancer in the 1930s), Ernest Rutherford, a Kiwi working at McGill university in Canada, and Paul Villard in Paris, were able to determine that radioactivity, the actual stuff coming out of polonium, radium, thorium and uranium, consisted of three different types of thing. They did this by applying a magnetic field and seeing what got deflected, and also by noting how strongly penetrating the things were.
Alpha particles were massive, had a double positive charge, and would be stopped by a few centimeters of air or your skin or a sheet of paper. Rutherford, in fact, was able to measure the charge to mass ratio and by 1907 proved that an alpha particle was essentially a helium atom, with two electrons removed from it. So it had twice the charge of a positive hydrogen ion, but four times the mass (the charge ratio originally measured would be half that of a hydrogen ion). Their typical speed turned out to be four percent of the velocity of light (which is still 12,000,000 meters per second).
Beta particles were a hundred times as penetrating. Becquerel in 1900 had a comeback, he was able to measure the charge to mass ratio of beta particles…and they turned out to be electrons.
Gamma rays were found by Villard in 1900; Rutherford worked with them and fit them into his naming scheme in 1903. These turned out to be electromagnetic radiation, of even higher frequency (and lower wavelength) than x rays. They were very penetrating, indeed. Today, we know of some forms of radioactivity that produce relatively long-wave gamma rays, longer than some X rays, so the dividing line between X-ray and gamma ray is fuzzy. For EM radiation in this overlapping range of wavelengths, it’s considered a gamma ray if it came from radioactivity, an X-ray otherwise.
It was fairly easy to measure how much energy these particles had in them. It turns out that if you can wait for a kilogram of uranium to decay (which takes billions of years) you get 1.72 trillion joules of energy out of it. And that ignores the fact that what the uranium decays into decays again, and again, and again, adds more energy to a grand total of a whopping 22.8 terajoules.
Compare this to a kilogram of coal: rougly 24 megajoules. The uranium, just in decaying, contains almost exactly a million times as much energy as the coal, though it has to release it very slowly.
A lot of energy, released over a very long time….what does that remind you of?
Stars, I hope. Could this be part of the answer to what powers the stars? At first look, it doesn’t seem promising, and that’s mainly because we now had ways of knowing what was in stars, and there was very, very little uranium in them. But now we had a suggestion as to what the answer might look like, as opposed to just a shoulder shrug.
For now, let’s chew on this alpha particle a bit. It turns out to be a double-ionized helium atom. And it comes out of a block of pure uranium. Somehow, pure uranium seems to consist, at least in part, of He2+ ions.
Maybe Prout and Lockyer were onto something after all, if one atom could be built up, somehow, out of other atoms without it being a molecule, and only breaking apart through radioactivity. Of course the basic piece seemed to be a helium atom, not a hydrogen atom, but who was to say the helium atom couldn’t actually be a group of four hydrogen building blocks?
But regardless of the details, this explains a couple of things.
Remember those Swedes who found helium coming out of uranium ore? That’s why. The uranium was spitting out alpha particles, which were combining with electrons in the rock or the air, and becoming perfectly normal helium gas.
And when, in 1903, it turned out that natural gas wells in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas were producing gas that had a lot of helium in it…that made sense. That helium ended up deep underground because it was created there…by uranium and thorium radioactivity.
Every single helium atom on Earth today was once an alpha particle crashing out of a nucleus at 4 percent of the speed of light. You’re filling your balloons with chilled radioactivity.
And that part of the US is still the major world source of helium gas.
(Everyone say “‘Murica!!!” in a high, squeaky voice!)
What a wild ride in only five years!!!
We went from having no real clue that atoms had pieces, to having seen those pieces; we were starting to understand the structure of atoms. We now had some notion of what was going on in chemistry.
And the wild ride was just getting started.
And Joe Biden didn’t win.
A Personal Announcement
I’m probably going to be nearly buried by other obligations, and soon. At some point, I’m going to have to put the physics posts on “hold” and just do a complete skeleton of a post each week (I’d still include the bullion prices)…and this will last for a couple of months. If that’s not satisfactory, I suppose we will need another author to fill in.
Obligatory PSAs and Reminders
China is Lower than Whale Shit
Remember Hong Kong!!!
Zhōngguò shì gè hùndàn !!!
China is asshoe !!!
China is in the White House
Since Wednesday, January 20 at Noon EST, the bought-and-paid for His Fraudulency Joseph Biden has been in the White House. It’s as good as having China in the Oval Office.
Joe Biden is Asshoe
China is in the White House, because Joe Biden is in the White House, and Joe Biden is identically equal to China. China is Asshoe. Therefore, Joe Biden is Asshoe.
But of course the much more important thing to realize:
Joe Biden Didn’t Win
Qiáo Bài dēng méi yíng !!!
Joe Biden didn’t win !!!