Saturday, January 23, 2021

Where do atoms come from?

[This is a transcript of the video embedded below.]


Matter is made of atoms. You all know that. But where do atoms come from? When were they made and how? And what’s the “island of stability”? That’s what we will talk about today.

At first sight, making an atom doesn’t seem all that difficult. All you need are some neutrons and protons for the nucleus, then you put electrons around them until the whole thing is electrically neutral, done. Sounds easy. But it isn’t.

The electrons are the simple part. Once you have a positively charged nucleus, it attracts electrons and they automatically form shells around the nucleus. For more about atomic electron shells, check my earlier video.

But making an atomic nucleus is not easy. The problem is that the protons are all positively charged and they repel each other. Now, if you get them really, really close to each other, then the strong nuclear force will kick in and keep them together – if there’s a suitable amount of neutrons in the mix. But to get the protons close enough together, you need very high temperatures, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of degrees.

Such high temperatures, indeed much higher temperatures, existed in the early universe, briefly after the big bang. However, at that time the density of matter was very high everywhere in the universe. It was a mostly structureless soup of subatomic particles called a plasma. There were no nuclei in this soup, just a mix of the constituents of nuclei.

It was only when this plasma expanded and cooled, that some of those particles managed to stick together. This created the first atomic nuclei which could then catch electrons to make atoms. From this you get Hydrogen and Helium and a few other chemical elements with their isotopes up to atomic number 4. The process of making atomic nuclei, by the way is called “nucleosynthesis”. And this part of nucleosynthesis that happened a few minutes after the big bang is called “big bang nucleosynthesis”.

But the expansion of plasma after the big bang happened so rapidly that only the lightest atomic nuclei could form in that process. Making the heavier ones takes more patience, indeed it takes a few hundred million years. During that time the universe continued to expand, but the light nuclei collected under the pull of gravity and formed the first stars. In these stars, the gravitational pressure increased the temperature again. Eventually, the temperature became large enough to push the small atomic nuclei into each other and fuse them to larger ones. This nuclear fusion creates energy and is the reason why stars are hot and shine.

Nuclear fusion in stars can go on up to atomic number twenty-six, which is iron, but then it stops. That’s because iron is the most stable of the chemical elements. Its binding energy is the largest. So, if you join small nuclei, you get energy out in the process until you hit iron, after which pushing more into the nucleus begins to take up energy.

So, with the nuclear fusion inside of stars, we now have elements up to iron. But where do the elements heavier than iron come from? They come from a process called “neutron capture”. Some fusion processes create free neutrons, and the neutrons, since they have no electric charge, have a much easier time entering an atomic nucleus than protons. And once they are in the nucleus, they can decay into a proton, an electron, and an electron-antineutrino. If they do that, they have created a heavier element. A lot of the so-created nuclei will be unstable isotopes, but they will spit out bits and pieces until they hit on a stable configuration.

Neutron capture can happen in stars just by chance every now and then. Over the course of time, therefore, old stars breed a few of the elements heavier than iron. But the stars eventually run out of nuclear fuel and die. Many of them collapse and subsequently explode. These supernovae distribute the nuclei inside galaxies or even blow them out of galaxies. Some of the lighter elements which are around today are actually created from splitting up these heavier elements by cosmic rays.

However, neutron capture in old stars is slow and stars only live for so long. This process just does not produce sufficient amounts of the heavy elements that we have here on Earth. Doing that requires a process that’s called “rapid neutron capture”. For this one needs an extreme environment of very high pressure with lots of neutrons that bombard the small atomic nuclei. Again, some of the neutrons enter the nucleus and then decay, leaving behind a proton, which creates heavier elements.

For a long time astrophysicists thought that rapid neutron capture happens in supernovae. But that turned out to not work very well. Their calculations indicated that supernovae would not produce a sufficient amount of neutrons quickly enough. The idea also did not fit well with observations. For example, if the heavy elements that astrophysicists observe in some small galaxies –called “dwarf galaxies” – had been produced by supernovae, that would have required so many supernovae that these small galaxies had been blown apart and we wouldn’t observe them in the first place.

Astrophysicists therefore now think that the heavy elements are most likely produced not in supernovae, but in neutron star mergers. Neutron stars are one of the remnants of supernovae. As the name says, they contain lots of neutrons. They do not actually contain nuclei, they’re just one big blob of super-dense nuclear plasma. But if they collide, the collision will spit out lots of nuclei, and create conditions that are right for rapid neutron-capture. This can create all of the heavy elements that we find on Earth. A recent analysis of light emitted during a neutron star merger supports this hypothesis because the light contains evidence for the presence of some of these heavy elements.

You may have noticed that we haven’t checked off the heaviest elements in the periodic table and that there are a few missing in between. That’s because they are unstable. They decay into smaller nuclei in times between a few thousand years and some micro-seconds. Those that were produced in stars are long gone. We only know their properties because they’ve been created in laboratories, by shooting smaller nuclei at each other with high energy.

Are there any other stable nuclei that we haven’t yet discovered? Maybe. It’s a long-standing hypothesis in nuclear physics that there are heavy nuclei with specific numbers of neutrons and protons that should have life-times up to some hundred thousand years, it’s just that we have not been able to create them so far. Nuclear physicists call it the “island of stability”, because it looks like an island if you put each nucleus on a graph where one axis is the number of protons, and the other axis is the number of neutrons.

Just exactly where the island of stability is, though, isn’t clear and predictions have moved around somewhat over the course of time. Currently, nuclear physicists believe reaching the island of stability would require pushing more neutrons inside the heaviest nuclei they previously produced.

But the maybe most astonishing thing about atoms is how so much complexity, look around you, is built up from merely three ingredients neutrons, protons, and electrons.

I hope you enjoyed this video. You can now support this channel on Patreon. So, if you want to be part of the story, go check this out. I especially want to thank my super-supporters on Patreon. Your help is greatly appreciated.

106 comments:

  1. Your blog makes me happy. Thanks a lot!

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  2. Sabine stated the following:
    “But the maybe most astonishing thing about atoms is how so much complexity, look around you, is built up from merely three ingredients neutrons, protons, and electrons.”

    And that is the ultimate understatement that lies at the heart of the “chance-vs-design” debate.

    Never mind the questions of not only where the initial kernel of compressed matter came from,...

    ...but also how this kernel (this “seed-like” phenomenon) could have been imbued with what seems to be the teleological impetus to “build” the absolute perfect setting (“look around you”) from which life and consciousness could then effloresce from the very fabric of the setting itself.
    _______

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    1. Keith D. Gill9:48 AM, January 23, 2021

      Are you determined to ignore the posts and learn nothing?

      Dr H. said it was "astonishing" not low probability. It is all explained by the laws of physics. Where they come from no-one knows.

      " seems to be the teleological impetus"
      There is no evidence of this. You just attach your mental delusion to the observed physics.

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    2. They say that the Higgs field is unstable. But if we could manipulate the Higgs field, we could change the very fabric of the setting itself, the nature of matter, and the way it behaves.

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    3. The range or diversity of forms in our world suggests some sort of extremization of complexity. This may involve quantum complexity with black holes. If there is an extremal principle for complexity in a cosmology, then maybe we should be not so surprised by this.

      Such an extremal principle might rescue cosmology from the vast expanse of the multiverse. It could lower the number of physical cosmologies or indeed reduce it down to the one we observe. Such a principle would dispense with the need for a designer or fine tuner.

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    4. Lawrence Crowell wrote:
      "Such an extremal principle might rescue cosmology from the vast expanse of the multiverse. It could lower the number of physical cosmologies or indeed reduce it down to the one we observe. Such a principle would dispense with the need for a designer or fine tuner."

      You may be right, Lawrence.

      However, the simple fact of the matter is that the vast majority of humans on earth desperately cling to a sense of “hope” that there is more to life than the paltry few moments we get to spend on this planet (with a great number of us existing in poverty and despair).

      And if you dispense with the need for a designer or a fine tuner,...

      (in other words, imply that there is no hope of a better life awaiting us in a transcendent context of reality)

      ...then you are basically insisting that life is meaningless and holds no ultimate and eternal purpose for us as individuals.

      Now regardless of whether that is true or not, again, the vast majority of humans on earth are never (that's NEVER) going to accept such a nihilistic vision of reality.
      _______

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    5. There is enough what gives meaning to one's existence, without believing in a personal God or a life after death.

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    6. Coincidentally, I recently saw an SMBC cartoon on meaningless. It depicts a conversation between an alien named Zortran and a human, something like this:

      Zortran, do you ever wonder if it's all just meaningless?

      What's "meaningless"?

      It's like ... what if you weren't important to the universe?

      So humans have a word to refer to the idea that it'd be really sad if all of reality weren't focused on them individually?

      Kinda, yeah.

      We call that "megalomania".

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    7. "...the vast majority of humans on earth are never (that's NEVER) going to accept such a nihilistic vision of reality."

      That is exactly the problem. In our longing and the feeling of lack we come up with the desire for "something else", instead of dealing with what is and getting rid of the feeling of lack. Escalating and propagating the confusion.

      That thing we came up with - the meaning - is a fiction. In short, let's call it by a word which condenses it the most - hope. And we are desperately trying to "reach it" (all our language and myths point to that). We fool ourselves more and more in the process. Take sides on different implementation of the same myth. And the show commences! Havoc results. Feeling alive. Ain't it nice!

      Then, forgetting this and experiencing some sort of inevitable results of such frantic activities, we come up with the magical word - 'nihilism'. "The life/universe does not have meaning." Sure, it didn't ask us for permission to not have our fantasized and assigned meaning. "Life stinks!"

      But aren't we forgetting something? That the trouble has begun with our inability to learn and process what life is and invoking imagined 'the meaning' instead? And later finding out the stupidity of all such inventions and becoming sulky as a child not willing to learn his own mistake. That is, nihilism is a construct and a total fiction over the fact that there never was any 'the meaning' and hope at all. Both are just words we invented being incapable to cope with the complexity and ourselves.

      It is like proving that hare's horn does not exist. You cannot prove it in any way. Simply because it has no meaning whatsoever.

      Perhaps, the only thing we have to deal with is this fiction of hope? The only poison we invented, glorified, mythologized and cannot get rid of. Can you imagine life without hope? If not, who is it, that is so afraid of measly inglorious existence not in accord with his/her imagined standards? Maybe, that's the starting point we avoid at all costs in order to finally grow up?

      And whether or not life itself has meaning (even forgetting the fact that it is only our erroneous reference frame that contains such concepts, and extrapolating it to such a wide term as life), isn't it too arrogant question? Do we consciously digest our food? Perhaps, control all our hundred trillion synaptic connections? Or capable of producing (not just imitating/emulating) at least a measly living thing? Form a star? Plan a civilization? Or at least not to destroy the one that is already going on, for a change? To even be somewhat capable to accept such a question for a consideration... Delphi's temple maxim, "Know Thyself", seems to be as relevant as 2500 years before.

      Flows water, burns fire, means life...

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    8. "...the vast majority of humans on earth are never (that's NEVER) going to accept such a nihilistic vision of reality."

      That is exactly the problem. In our longing and the feeling of lack we come up with the desire for "something else", instead of dealing with what is and getting rid of the feeling of lack in the first place. Escalating and propagating the confusion.

      That thing we came up with - the meaning - is a fiction. In short, let's call it by a word which condenses it the most - hope. And we are desperately trying to "reach it" (all our language and myths point to that). We fool ourselves more and more in the process. Take sides on different implementations of the same myth. And the show commences! Havoc results. Feeling alive. Ain't it nice!

      Then, forgetting this and experiencing some sort of inevitable results of such frantic activities, we come up with the magical word - 'nihilism'. "The life/universe does not have meaning." Sure, it didn't ask us for permission to not have our fantasized and assigned meaning. "Life stinks!"

      But aren't we forgetting something? That the trouble has begun with our inability to learn and process what life is and invoking imagined 'the meaning' instead? And later finding out the stupidity of all such inventions and becoming sulky as a child not willing to learn his own mistake. That is, nihilism is a construct and a total fiction, a cover over the fact that there never was any 'the meaning' and hope at all. Both are just words we invented being incapable to cope with the complexity and ourselves.

      It is like proving that hare's horn does not exist. You cannot prove it in any way. Simply because it has no meaning whatsoever to begin with.

      Perhaps, the only thing we have to deal with is this fiction of hope? The only poison we invented, glorified, mythologized and cannot get rid of. Can you imagine life without hope? If not, who is it, that is so afraid of measly inglorious existence not in accord with his/her imagined standards? Maybe, that's the starting point we avoid at all costs in order to finally grow up?

      And whether or not life itself has meaning (even forgetting the fact that it is only our erroneous reference frame that contains such concepts, and then extrapolating it to such a wide frame as life), isn't it too arrogant question? Do we consciously digest our food? Perhaps, control all our hundred trillion synaptic connections? Or capable of producing (not just imitating/emulating) at least a measly living thing? Form a star? Plan a civilization? Or at least not to destroy the one that is already going on, for a change? To even be somewhat capable to accept such a question for a consideration... Delphi's temple maxim, "Know Thyself", seems to be as relevant as 2500 years before.

      Flows water, burns fire, means life...

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    9. Keith D. Gill12:24 PM, January 24, 2021

      "the vast majority of humans on earth are never (that's NEVER) going to accept such a nihilistic vision of reality."

      Wrong again, Keith:

      BBC
      "More than half in UK are non-religious, suggests survey"

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    10. JimV (quoting the English speaking space alien named Zortran) wrote:
      “So humans have a word to refer to the idea that it'd be really sad if all of reality weren't focused on them individually?

      Kinda, yeah.

      We call that "megalomania".”

      Is it “megalomania” for a mother who just lost a young child to accident or disease to “hope” that her child may not really be dead?

      Now of course it may be “wishful thinking,” but is it really megalomania that causes a human to hope that whatever the mysterious forces or processes were that allowed for the emergence of their personal life and mind from these highly ordered arrangements of atoms,...

      ...might also have a way of sustaining the mind in such a way that no longer requires it being tied to the initiating atomic structures?

      I’m afraid that Zortran the space alien sounds a lot like your run-of-the-mill (cynical) human materialist. Hmmm, I wonder why? :)
      _______

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    11. "run-of-the-mill (cynical) human materialist"

      Conceptualization, again. Who needs this explanation of materialism or cynicism? The mother who lost her child is not doomed to suffer all her life. Yet, the longer she holds on to some crooked 'hope' of resurrection or miracle - the harder it will be for her. Though, it is not habitual in complex mammals in general and our species in particular to not suffer when losing an offspring as it is biologically coded and tribe-reinforced (oxytocin, dopamine, status reinforcement networks, etc.), if she learns to get over it instantly, she won't suffer at all. However, 'inhuman' it may sound. That's just another misconception as that kind of suffering (based on an initial confusion) is not helpful. So it is an advantage to get rid of "wishful thinking" and not suffer. Though, it is a hard work, as it is evolutionary reinforced. But not impossible.

      When you mention "wishful thinking" as a coping mechanism, think of an agent to whom it means anything. Who is it, that finds it so important? As that's the mechanism which is looking for meaning ("why?") but in the wrong places. That is, there is no "why?" - only a mistake in thinking. That mistake in thinking creates an agent for its operations, that is a construct that supposed to manage some signaling synthetic functions of the organism but runs amok in his commentaries and causes all kinds of troubles. And that's it.

      So all the "why?", "the meaning", "the agent", etc. are just the Stone Age erroneous constructs in thinking to make sense of complexity. Can organism operates without them? Test it. Drink 2 liters of water and wait for half an hour to see what happens. It does all that is necessary by itself. Yet, there will be a commentary going on, "I decided to go to the toilet. I could not find one. I had to urinate at the street. What a shame... I have to repent my sins before lord."

      That's really it. No agent, no 'the meaning', no 'why?' Life goes on on its own.

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    12. "Is it “megalomania” for a mother who just lost a young child to accident or disease to “hope” that her child may not really be dead?"

      I suspect Zortran would call that "moving the goalposts". Knowing our telescopes can see 100 billion galaxies and deciding life is meaningless if all that wasn't created specifically for humans is what Zortran was referring to. Doesn't that fit the definition?

      More generally, the trouble with wishful thinking is that you have to understand the nature of reality to solve problems such as disease and accidents. If your model is wrong, your solutions are useless. Worse, you may not even realize the need for solutions: everything is fine, the child is in a better place, and god loves humans too much to allow climate change to happen.

      I don't think a blog about science is a good place to advocate belief without evidence, on the grounds that it makes you feel better. It will only waste your time and annoy the participants, as they say about trying to teach an elephant to dance.

      I happened to see that cartoon, out of thousands on the website, by clicking the Random button, on the same day I saw your comment on "meaningless". If I ever thought the universe was trying to tell me something, that would be it. I guess that was my miracle for this month. (See "Littlewood's Law of Miracles".)

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    13. JimV wrote:
      “I suspect Zortran would call that "moving the goalposts". Knowing our telescopes can see 100 billion galaxies and deciding life is meaningless if all that wasn't created specifically for humans is what Zortran was referring to. Doesn't that fit the definition?”

      I suppose it might fit the definition, but only if you can give me just one other reason for the existence of those 100 billion galaxies other than for the sake of, not necessarily just humans, but for life, mind, and consciousness in general. Go ahead, give it a shot.

      Furthermore, I’m not moving the goalposts. I am simply countering “Zortran’s” claim that “megalomania” has something to do with the understandable human desire and hope that life does not end at the moment of physical death.

      JimV wrote:
      “More generally, the trouble with wishful thinking is that you have to understand the nature of reality to solve problems such as disease and accidents. If your model is wrong, your solutions are useless.”

      Human problems are not limited to diseases or accidents. There is also the psychological (existential) angst caused by the awareness of the inevitability of death and eternal oblivion. And that’s where our afterlife stories (be they right or wrong) are helpful (vital) to many humans. We just need a better (more logical) story – one that unifies us as opposed to dividing us into warring factions.

      Moreover, understanding the nature of “reality” must include the realization that treating the most important aspects of reality (i.e., life, mind, and consciousness) as if they were some kind of quirky little accident that resulted from a serendipitous arrangement of atoms, is utterly ridiculous.

      I mean, physicists have yet to resolve the issue of whether or not consciousness might have something to do with the collapse of the quantum wavefunction. Which means that there is a possibility that without the interaction of consciousness, those 100 billion galaxies would exist as spread-out (superpositioned) waves (or fields) of energy and information that have no reality as we understand reality to be.

      And that brings me back to Sabine’s blog question of “Where do atoms come from?”

      It is one thing to offer up reverse-engineered theories as to how atoms form. However, it is something else altogether to explain not only the “origin” of the very essence from which atoms are constructed, but also the reason why this essence seems to have been imbued with, again, the teleological impetus to create an absolute perfect setting upon which multifarious lifeforms could emerge and flourish.

      JimV wrote:
      “I don't think a blog about science is a good place to advocate belief without evidence, on the grounds that it makes you feel better.”

      So says the guy who just a few sentences later entertains the possibility that the universe may have been trying to “tell him something” via a synchronistic occurrence (or "miracle") involving the word “meaningless.” ;)
      _______

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    14. Keith D. Gill: The idea of eternal life, resurrection of the dead and the rest is a meme that is pretty resistant to facts or proof. The creation story and references to the nature of the world within the Abrahamic religions has no bearing on what we know scientifically and is clearly nothing more than a mythic narrative. This in the mind of literalist believers unhinges their entire theology, and it is a sort of psychic disaster. Up until a few centuries ago there was no problem here, for the biblical narratives were taken as truth beyond any question. Now they are mythic narratives beyond much reasonable doubt.

      Charles Schultz had his character Linus wait for the great pumpkin on Halloween, where the GP was supposed to come to the most sincere pumpkin patch. Of course nothing happens, but Linus is in the end undeterred and does it again next year. In Christianity Jesus is supposed to return to restore His Kingdom and in Islam there will be the day of Allah. Various rather crazy people on both sides have ideas of "what must be done" to make this happen. It has involved flying planes into towers and ideas of starting nuclear wars. It is dangerous stuff; it is a sort of socio-psychological acid that corrodes minds.

      I am sure through the remainder of my life, where I have 3 or 4 decades left, these beliefs will continue. Lots of Christian preachers said God told them t'Rump will win the election, and while this is an inconvenience it will not end this sort of thing. People on average much prefer words of comfort to proof, facts and evidence.

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    15. Vadim wrote:
      “So all the "why?", "the meaning", "the agent", etc. are just the Stone Age erroneous constructs in thinking to make sense of complexity. Can organism operates without them? Test it. Drink 2 liters of water and wait for half an hour to see what happens. It does all that is necessary by itself....That's really it. No agent, no 'the meaning', no 'why?' Life goes on on its own.”

      Come on now Vadim, is it really “Stone Age erroneous constructs in thinking” to *wonder* how it is possible that the blind and mindless meanderings of chance could have created the complex biological processes inherent in our bodies?

      Is it really “Stone Age thinking” to be *curious* as to how it is possible that random and unsupervised fields of post Bang atoms could have somehow managed to eventually form themselves into strands of highly coded (software-like) DNA...

      ...that then bring about the creation and subsequent stitching together of proteins that know precisely when to differentiate themselves between the opaque blueness of the iris and that of the glass-like clearness of the pupil of the human eye?

      Vadim, you are an eloquent spokesperson for materialism, but you seem to have a blind “faith” in the creative powers of chance that would put to shame the most devout Christian, Muslim, or Jew.
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    16. Lawrence Crowell wrote:
      “The creation story and references to the nature of the world within the Abrahamic religions has no bearing on what we know scientifically and is clearly nothing more than a mythic narrative.”

      Yes, Lawrence, I completely agree with you. And that is precisely why I wrote in an earlier post that we need “...a better (more logical) story – one that unifies us, as opposed to dividing us into warring factions...”

      And the point that I keep trying to drive home is that materialism’s “chance hypothesis” (story) is just as much of a "mythic" narrative as any of the nonsense handed down to us in the world’s religions.
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    17. Mr. Gill, for the record I did not "entertain the possibility". (The reference to Littlewood's Law of Miracles should have made that clear; I hope you were not deliberately twisting my words.) The main reason I pointed that out was as an example of the kind of improbable coincidence which religious people like to seize upon to justify their dogma, but which occurs in the opposite direction also, as in that case. Your comment seems to indicate you would consider that entertainment to be unscientific and ridiculous. As long as that feeling applies to both cases, we are in agreement there.

      As for materialism, is a Lagrangian, are the Lie Groups, is non-Euclidean geometry material? As far as I can tell, material means something which makes sense and produces results which can be measured or otherwise confirmed. Whereas in courts of law, testimony is not allowed which is immaterial. So I don't think "materialist" is a term of opprobrium which will further your case in a science blog either.

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    18. Oh, don't get me wrong - I'm constantly in awe, especially in nature. It's the semantics. Yet, in that case, I don't mean "the word doesn't matter in the end", but that the word can be used as a mirror for reflection, examination of our cognitive models. That is, yes, the word is not the thing. Yet, it can point to contradictions and where to look.

      You curiously enough yourself mentioned, "...how it is possible..." and "...*curious* as to how it is possible..." Both cases are valid contemplations stirred by genuine curiosity and deep interest, and they both are 'how' questions. So they direct thinking in some constructive direction. It's not some purism in words or thinking. As sometimes 'why' questions simply mean, "How on earth does it work?"

      It only means, that we can ponder about them or do something about them, come up with a hypothesis, observation, experiment and verify something in order to understand relations between phenomena and clarify the functional structure in order to compress something complex into something we can describe and share. Coming up with a model or a theory, that is, a language. I would even say, that not all of them have to be necessarily measurable (or even have predictive capacity), but don't want to go into the constructive math (computational paradigm) vs pure math (mainly axiomatic systems & 'intuitionism') vs unspeakable-unknown level ('absolutes', 'meta's, etc.) argument.

      The main point here, is that when asking these questions we can potentially come up with the structure of phenomena, represented by relations or find out where our contradictions lie. So eventually either converging to some understanding (even if it's an understanding of contradiction, or a question to figure out, or how to approach some unknown) or capable to constructively change our models. That is, basically, 'how' questions direct us towards relations, actions, change (verbs, representing process, dynamics). While 'why' questions eventually direct us towards definitions, explanations, objects (nouns, representing state, statics).

      To be continued...

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    19. For example, you cannot properly answer "why is it raining?" as you will end up with "how has it all begun?" There are too many relations - vapor, pressure-temperature, magnetic field, air currents, dew points - to find one and only cause for rain to happen. As in actuality rain is not some phenomenon with its separate and independent nature - not a thing, not a state but it's just some representation of underlying interconnected processes. And it's not caused by one and only actor (god, law, nature, etc.). It only seems so, habitually so, to our kind of perception and expression (fly will see it differently, eagle may see currents of updrafts of air, etc.) Colloquially we may say 'universe does it', when we understand the relations behind it. So you can ask "how does it happen?" instead and consequently figure out all the relations between phenomena.

      So it's not meant as 'everything is clear' or 'explainable in principle' or 'nothing miraculous', but more of an approach to complexity we face. How can we even approach it more properly and sanely. And perhaps even learn to express and share it, so that the confusion is minimized. And we can properly communicate.

      And considering my relation to materialism (or idealism, as 'faith' is), there is none. It's more of a proper language for a proper context and seriousness of an explorer that matters most. With the exception of 'why' (and its derivatives, 'agent', 'free will', 'the meaning', etc.) that eventually leads to metaphysics, which I attempted to bring up. As metaphysics is a graveyard which destroyed many good heads as it has no answers by being a mechanism of confusion in thinking, nor is it fruitful for concentration or reflection (albeit, arguable; some may argue that it sharpens the mind, but there are better objects/instruments for this).

      Please, don't take it personally, it was just a consideration of some common constructs in thinking (which do not exclude the writer, when he is inattentive). All the text is saying is that we can understand things in terms of relations and interconnections between phenomena. And the labels like 'materialism' or 'nihilism' are just our attempts to explain out some unnoticed previously assumed 'the meaning' of some implicit previously assumed 'the agent' (which is under the hood, expectation of one & only cause, a reduction where it's not helpful), but which in essence just mean our inability to face the mighty, "I do not know..."

      PS Sorry, if repeated, there were some issues with Brave browser and its ad-blocking mechanisms.

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    20. Keith D. Gill11:41 AM, January 27, 2021

      " *wonder* how it is possible that the blind and mindless meanderings of chance could have created the complex biological processes inherent in our bodies?"

      Errrmmm, yes, that's exactly what Newton, Darwin and Einstein wondered, and they have provided the answers. In fact, many of the answers are described in the several thousand posts in this blog you are commenting on. Maybe you didn't notice.

      Everything that you claim is mysterious is not. It is explained by science. If you think the science is incorrect, you are welcome to provide evidence. Waffling like some Iron Age mystic does not constitute evidence.

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    21. Steven Evans wrote:
      “Everything that you claim is mysterious is not. It is explained by science.”

      If such were truly the case, then why has it been suggested to physicists that they shouldn’t ask too many questions as to why quantum mechanics works, but instead they should simply “shut up and calculate”?

      Or why did a premier physicist such as Richard Feynman say:

      “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”?

      Or why did Heisenberg “allegedly” state:

      “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”?

      Steven Evans wrote:
      “If you think the science is incorrect, you are welcome to provide evidence.”

      I do not think science is incorrect. For clearly, given enough time, science will no doubt give us control over the fabric of matter to the point of almost being able to manipulate it with the same ease by which we manipulate the fabric of our own thoughts and dreams.

      No, my beef lies with those who believe in the primacy of matter over the primacy of life, mind, and consciousness.

      Steven Evans wrote:
      “Waffling like some Iron Age mystic does not constitute evidence.”

      Is it Iron Age mysticism to wonder about the true nature of what physicists call “non-local” reality?

      In other words, is it a mystical endeavor to wonder about the ultimate origin of these hidden (sensory inaccessible) patterns of energy and information that, in philosophical parlance, seem to resemble the Kantian “noumenon”?

      After all, the title of this blog thread is “Where do atoms come from?”

      In which case, is it not logical to look for answers to that question in what seems to be the most obvious direction...

      ...(i.e., in the realm that the “shut up and calculate” crowd are shying away from simply because their (locally-based) measuring devices fail them in that regard)?
      _______

      Delete
    22. "clearly, given enough time, science will no doubt give us control over the fabric of matter to the point of almost being able to manipulate it with the same ease by which we manipulate the fabric of our own thoughts and dreams."

      We have even less control over thoughts (and especially less so of dreams, which represent a strange dance between cortical and limbic regions), than we do over matter. If you observe carefully, you will find out that you don't think up what you think, or say - it just happens.

      There are management mechanisms for particular types of thoughts, in order to slow them down (or potentially even end them), but no direct mechanisms to control them. It's another illusion of an agent which imagines that he owes the thoughts, while it's just a post hoc appropriating construct or a post hoc commentary representing thoughts of a particular type (i.e. dispensable and not helpful).

      Mainly, it's as Steven says, most of the questions you allude to have been already answered. Many of your opinions about thinking are also well studied and described in physiology, somnology, neurophysiology or neuroscience (there are many interpretative ad hoc models, in fields like cognitive science and AGI, which attempt to integrate it all and make it work engineering-wise, but IMO mostly represent just an another level of psychology, which nonetheless may play its function, they are just often forgetting about their transitory nature). They don't need any outdated models anymore (which were created for not having any better knowledge, some were profound from a perspective of organization of life, but many turned out to be very difficult to process and get rid of, especially without proper education) and much more curious than most of fiction. But it's true that it's difficult to properly integrate them without knowing where to look for the proper structure of knowledge. And there are synthetic models which may have some practical everyday value (rule-of-thumb-like), but they are mostly inline with the rigorous models (e.g. even Newtonian physics is more than enough to understand motions; yoga good for your blood pressure as other stretches and breathing exercises; concentration, deep breathing and flow states help to release tensions and inflammatory responses, helping to regulate mediators in hypothalamus, hence, reducing cortisol levels, inflammation and pain, etc., etc.)

      Delete
    23. Keith D. Gill12:48 PM, January 28, 2021

      Again, everything you write is complete gobbledegook.

      The blog post literally explains where atoms come from. It answers the questions.
      It is well understood why nature on a very small scale (quantum) and on a very large scale (GR) transcend human intuition - human intuition is based on local, coarse perception. But the quantum is observed precisely enough and described well enough by Maths to allow the design of computer chips.

      "No, my beef lies with those who believe in the primacy of matter over the primacy of life, mind, and consciousness."

      Who on this Earth believes in the "primacy" of matter over life?? You appear to have a beef with some imaginary straw man.
      AFAIK, all natural phenomena, including life, mind and consciousness emerge from physical phenomena. These are the simple facts of the matter.

      What *is* your problem with the simple facts of nature? You want to ignore the simple facts so you can continue believing in "spirits" and whatnot like a little child?

      Delete
    24. @ Keith D. Gill: I think to put it somewhat more precisely, the question is how is a world built from quantum states or waves, that are Markovian, gives rise to a large scale world that is subMarkovian. Markovian statistics is where a fluctuation, or random occurrences, at one time have not memory carried to a subsequent time. Yet clearly with biological systems processes are subMarkovian, which means there are "memories" of such statistical outcomes in the past that are carried to the future.

      Markovian statistics are white noise. SubMarkovian statistics might be compared to a bull market where there is a variance for stock outcomes. called volatility, but on average the game wins. SuperMarkovian statistics are compared to a bear market.

      The closest idea to this might be Zurek's einselection of large action quantum states that are stable. In some manner the occurrence of the macroscopic world is where there can be an emergence of complex structures. The structure of molecules may in some ways be a factor in this property. A lot is not known here.

      Delete
    25. "Chance vs. design." (Another one of my buttons pushed.)

      I designed turbines for a living for most of my professional career. My company, GE, sold turbines for power generation but did not make boilers or feedwater heaters. Also, specific site conditions such as feedwater temperature were other input variables we did not control. So most turbines we built were custom designs that had to account for variations in the design requirements. From that experience, of having to face new conditions continually, some of which turned out to be challenging, I learned this: design is chance-driven. That is, when new conditions are encountered that aren't in our Design Books (our engineering DNA) we proceed by trial and error. That is how the Wright brothers designed their airplane, that is why Edison famously discovered "ten thousand things that don't work." That is why archeological evidence of modern humans (at least in bone structure) goes back about 200,000 years, but archeological evidence of the wheel-and-axle only goes back 6000 years.

      Once you can have the gene for the wheel-and-axle (metaphorically speaking), it can be varied by more trial and error to produce gears, pulleys, windlasses, capstans, watermills, windmills, computer hard-drives, and so on. Similar to how the advent of the Hox gene in biological systems allowed variations in body plans to proliferate.

      Human design has always worked by trial and error, building on past successful finds, just like biological evolution. Differentiating between the mechanisms of chance (trial and error) and design is a category error.

      A creationist I was playing tennis with one day pointed to a car parked near a tree and said, "Can't you see that they both were designed?" I replied, "It seems to me they both evolved. You've seen cars evolve a lot over your lifetime."

      (Humans have better forms of memory than DNA to pass on successes, and can do some of the necessary trial and error in their brains. However, biological evolution has had much longer to work, and orders of magnitude more metaphorical dice to roll.)

      The issue that is not governed by chance is whether any design solutions exist to be found. Given that they do, chance can find them. We did not create the wheel-and-axle, we discovered it. (A precursor was the use of smooth logs as rollers under heavy weights.) Anyway, that is the only demonstrated model of design which I know of. Like all appeals to magic, the idea of design which creates something new without trial and error is not one we have any good evidence for.

      What about people like Einstein? Read his Zurich Notebook (a translation is available online) and you will see that he tried other ways to derive the equations for General Relativity which didn't work, before a friend pointed him to Riemann's equations.

      What drives us to design? Speaking for the design engineers I have known, we do it to enhance our abilities to survive and reproduce, by producing things which will survive in the marketplace and generate revenue for us. Evolution made us that way. (Those who didn't feel these drives did not contribute much the gene pool.)

      Where did the universe come from which has these and other design solutions? I don't know, but the god-hypothesis is not satisfying even philosophically because it just attempts to sweep all the questions under the rug, rather than answer them. If you can't tell me where the god came from and how it works (and don't say it works like human design works, we find things not create them, see above), why shouldn't I just eliminate the middleman and say that about the universe directly?

      (I apologize to everyone for wasting space on the Internet for the nth time repeating stuff most people here know.)

      Delete
    26. @ Lawrence a noob question here and an unrelated one to this particular discussion.

      How do we positively know that quantum states are Markovian? That is, what is the best place to check in order to understand this (the simpler, the better)? Is it back to Bell's theorem and statistical independence questions?

      I searched and the first paper it gave me is quite curious - "Markovian and Non-Markovian Quantum Measurements" by Glick & Adami - which claims that we only get Markovian results when we use amplifiers and that "the loss of memory is not a fundamental property of quantum measurements, but is merely a consequence of the loss of quantum information".

      Sorry, if the question doesn't make sense, as I only skimmed over the abstract and conclusions (the math is over my head).

      Delete
    27. Statistical independence is not an issue as such. An example came to mind, which I think is in accord with what the paper claims.

      There is a bucket of water. Up to some error bar I can use a class of scoops to empty the bucket. Then I choose the first scoop and start the process. It is not so relevant whether or not the scoops in between are drawn independently or not. But it is relevant what was the first scoop. As the drawing of that first scoop introduced some 'memory' in the whole system. Which is there until the bucket is empty (the last scoop). So, how can we know that we are dealing with the Markovian process and not with that bucket?

      Delete
    28. If QM were subMarkovian then Bell's theorem would be violated. There would be some hidden variable that carries this subquantum information.

      I would have to look at the Glick and Adami paper. I am familiar with work by both. First off, Markovian statistics in effect does not generate information, but it does not create any either. SubMarkovian statistics creates information, and it ultimately does so by being a quantum analogue of an open thermodynamic system. The paper you cite involves measurement and this is a bit different than just QM.

      Delete
    29. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    30. Sorry, turned out I completely misunderstood EPR, Bell's theorem and its connection to the measurement process (and statistics). Went on to read some books-papers...
      The paper still seems to be interesting (and superdeterminism acquires colors).

      Thanks for the clarification.

      Delete
  3. Greetings, Dr. Hossenfelder.
    If the Blog Archive don't lie, this is your 2000-esim post.
    2000 posts. Along 15 years. It's only me who found that amazing?
    From 2006, you have shared your life with humble internauts like myself and, along the way, have managed to instruct us,move us and make us understand that Physicists are normal people, too and Physics itself not that scary or unrreachable; and all that sprinkled with a wondrows sense of humour and irony.
    For all the joys I have found here, I thank you, Dr. Hossenfelder, and may we have a 10000 post too.

    Now, more on topic, "Supernovae" spells as|Supernovi|? Good to know.
    The idea of supermassive nuclei is indeed intriguing. My understanding was that, beyond a number of nucleons, electromagnetic interactions are powerful enough to opposite the strong force.
    That "island of stability" will be composed of rich-neutron atoms, maybe?

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  4. Please clarify for me if the notion that H2 gas atoms can be formed from 2 H+ ions and not at extremely high T is incorrect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. H2 is a molecule. It consists of two atoms.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Sabine. My question was poorly stated and I would take it back if I could. I do realize that H2 is a molecule. My puzzlement is why H+ do not exist as atoms except in pairs (ie molecules). It's a question of definition as I interpret. Not worth pursuing further.

      Delete
  5. I am fascinated by the Higgs field. If it were not for the Higgs field, matter would not exist. The Higgs field is the rubric upon which the nature of protons, neutrons, electrons and atoms are defined. If the Higgs field were to change just a little, matter would evaporate into energy. I think it is proper to say that atoms come from the Higgs field.

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  6. so the heavy elements on earth came from a neutron star mergers

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To best current knowledge, yes, that's my understanding.

      Delete
  7. I am surprised to know that the usual explanation of elements heavier than iron being produced in Supernovae is wrong, but rather they are produced in collisions of neutron stars. I am quite sure that you must have checked the literature, BTW were there that many neutron stars close to solar system when it was formed say 5 B years ago?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I did check the literature. Please note that the heavy elements make up only tiny fractions of the matter in the solar system. You don't need a huge amount of neutron stars for the ratios to match with what we observe. I don't know what you mean by "close to the solar system". Neutron star mergers, like supernovae, actually blow out their leftovers throughout galaxies. Please note that there is very little friction to stop these atoms or grains from spreading.

      Delete
    2. There may be a flaw in the neutron star merger posit. When two neutron stars merge, a black hole is likely to form and all the matter generated by the merger is then sequestered inside the black hole.

      This case could be characterized and quantized through gravitational wave analysis. Is there any data on this case identified yet?

      There is also the case where the matter created by the merger cannot escape from the gravity well of the combined neutron star system.

      Delete
    3. It's not a "posit". It's an experimentally confirmed hypothesis. And no, if a black hole is created, it does of course not eat up all the matter. And no, this is not just me guessing there are lots of papers about this, start eg here.

      Also, I notice you continue to attempt to post links. Please discontinue it, you are wasting my time and I am already very tempted to forward all of your comments straight to junk.

      Delete
    4. Is it that supernova fast neutron capture is wrong, or that it is insufficient? I have a version of the periodic table that illustrates how each element is generated, and there is still some given to supernovae. I have been lead to think the most heavy elements are produced by neutron star collisions.

      Delete
  8. Hello Sabine, I have heard ( possibly from Harald Lesch ?! ),
    that colliding galaxies lose their gas, but the stars in principle do not collide with each other. And now you say, the capture of fast neutrons happens during the collision of neutron stars...which are much smaller.
    Do you have a reference, a quote, a name there?
    Greetings Stefan

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    Replies
    1. Hallo Stefan,

      I don't know what Lesch (or someone else) might have been referring to there, but I believe this is a misununderstanding. If galaxies collide, the stars in the galaxies are indeed extremely unlikely to collide. It's not how star collisions happen. Neutron star mergers happen in binary systems. These are much more common than most people seem to think.

      The neutron star merger observation that I mention in the video was all over the news, you can start eg here.

      Delete
  9. >Nuclear fusion in stars can go on up to atomic number twenty-six, which is iron, but then it stops.

    No, that's wrong Sabine. Search for "p-process". E.g. the fusion of a proton with a nucleus heavier than iron will always release energy and can proceed with no problem.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment.

      First, I hope you are not willfully but accidentally taking this sentence which you quote from my full script out of context. It clear from the full text that I first explain that fusion beyond iron does not release energy, which raises the question where heavier elements come from, and then go on to explain why heavier elements can *nevertheless* be produced.

      "the fusion of a proton with a nucleus heavier than iron will always release energy and can proceed with no problem."

      I have not been able to find a reference which supports this claim. Could you please be so kind to provide one.

      Delete
    2. That's completely obvious: if additional
      protons would not have a positive
      binding energy, no nucleus beyond
      iron would be stable.

      In more detail: if one adds a proton
      to iron-56 one gains a binding
      energy of about 8.6 MeV because
      the proton had no binding energy.
      One looses a binding energy of about
      0.4 MeV because the other 56 nuclei become
      a little less bound (roughly estimated
      average value). So totally
      binding energy is released.

      Delete
    3. Franze: The binding curve of energy is one of these things learned in the sophomore modern physics class, that introduces a bit about QM and the rest. It is old classic nuclear physics. To generate nuclei larger in atomic number than iron require more energy input. Energy output comes from either decay of these nuclei or fission, such as U235. Iron is right at the peak of binding energy.

      Delete
    4. Lawrence,

      Strictly speaking the peak is Nickel, though it's almost exactly the same binding energy as iron.

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    5. I guess that is the case. The peak is Ni62. We keep reading it is iron.

      Delete
    6. References: Blatt/Weisskopf
      Theoretical Nuclear Physics, p.3-7.
      Any physicist who understands these
      4 pages will understand that you're
      wrong.
      More specific example:
      https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/abs/10.1139/p58-055
      The authors fuse protons with rhenium nuclei (Z=75)
      and produce the heavier element Osmium (Z=76).
      Energy must be released otherwise the Osmium
      nucleus would not be stable to strong decay.
      It is released via \gamma rays.

      @Lawrence You commit the same elementary thinking error
      as Sabine: yes, nickel is the most strongly bound
      nucleus. This means no energy is released, and
      thus no heavier elementw can be produced e.g. in the
      fusion of 2 nickel nuclei. But a single proton is completely unbound. The binding energy that is released by its binding with a nickel nucleus outweighs the small
      loss in binding energy of all other nucleons
      due to its addition by far.
      And yes, you are right: this is sophomore level,
      "Modern Physics 100" first lecture on nuclear physics.

      Delete
    7. Franzi,

      I read the 4 pages of Weisskopf and don't know what you are referring to. Weisskopf, needless to say, shows the exact same curve of binding energies as I show in my video. I don't have access to the other paper.

      You have claimed a few times that "energy must be released" for the resulting nucleus to be stable. This is of course wrong.

      I therefore ask you one last time to provide evidence for your claim that

      "the fusion of a proton with a nucleus heavier than iron will always release energy and can proceed with no problem."

      I will not approve further responses unless you can come up with evidence to support this claim.

      Delete
    8. Please see e.g. here
      https://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.5667.pdf
      p.6:
      "For the case of the 92Zr(p,γ)93Nb reaction shown
      in Fig. 1b, the Q-value is 6.04 MeV..."
      A positive Q-value means an exothermic reaction,
      i.e. energy is released.
      Take also a look in the abstract:
      "These reactions are part of the nuclear reactionflow
      for the synthesis of the light p nuclei."

      Delete
    9. Franzi,

      Your claim is, I repeat:

      "the fusion of a proton with a nucleus heavier than iron will always release energy and can proceed with no problem."

      Of course there are certain isotopes of some nuclei for which you can release energy by pushing in a proton. But this is not what you claimed.

      Delete
    10. OK, my statement was sloppy, here I make it precise:
      "For each chemical element at least up to uranium there is at least one isotope which when fused with a proton releases energy."

      The truth of this statement is obvious: if an additional proton could never be in a bound state no elements heavier than nickel could exist. If it is in bound state, it has a finite binding energy, which needs to be released in order to bind the nucleon. Do you agree?

      If yes: then your statement: >Nuclear fusion in stars can go on up to atomic number twenty-six, which is iron, but then it stops.

      is wrong. Please admit it.
      See here
      http://nuclphys.sinp.msu.ru/books/astro/The-p-process-of-stellar-nucleosynthesis--astrophysics-and-n_2003_Physics-Re.pdf

      table 1 for a list of isotopes that are thought to have been formed via fusion of nuclei beyond Ni by proton fusion.

      Delete
    11. Right, in that case I am happy to admit that my statement is wrong. Let us note though that it is considerably less "wrong" than the statement you made which you now want to water down into "sloppy". Thanks for wasting our time once again.

      Delete
    12. Interjecting here- the fusion of the iron group in the cores of massive stars is an equilibrium process- by that time, photo-destruction is happening at the same rate as fusion, so the resulting distribution of nuclei is Boltzmann-like over the available nuclear states. As a result, there will be some nuclei heavier than iron/nickel, but not much heavier... :^)

      Delete
  10. I can understand atoms, what beats me is why elementary particles are said to be irreducible reps of the Poincare group. How is that explained intuitively? Presumably the irreducibility is to get elementary particles, whilst a reducible rep will be some kind of bound system of elementary particles. Then all we have to explain is why bound systems of particles transform in this rep. Of course this doesn't explain where particles come from, but it does classify them by their properties. Do you have any insight into this?

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  11. The other question I have is whether the particle field is localised in space or everywhere. For example, if I have two electrons do their fields extend everywhere in the universe? Or are they just local to where they are.

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  12. Nucleosynthesis has always fascinated me. I still recall as a young child reading George Gamow’s description of how the Big Bang [1] nicely explained hydrogen and helium… and then kind of fell apart for everything else. Mystery!

    The mystery has endured for most of my life. The most recent piece of the puzzle was the delightfully unanticipated realization that heavy elements beyond iron are mostly the shattered remnants of colliding neutron stars. Now, if that isn’t a mystery with an unexpected ending, I don’t know what is!

    Just think of that: The gold or tungsten ring on your finger is a remnant of a neutron star core. Wow… George Gamow never saw that coming!

    Another group of elements I’ve found delightfully mysterious is the trio of light-weights lithium, beryllium, and boron. The problem with these elements is that they are all excellent nuclear fuel, requiring less energy to fuse than hydrogen or even deuterium. Thus they get burned up by stars pretty much the instant they are formed.

    We know these elements from everyday life: Boron in borax and eyedrops, lithium in batteries, and even mysterious-sounding beryllium from a famous gemstone: emerald. All are common enough to be significant, which is remarkable. For a long time, there were no compelling explanations of where they came from.

    These days, lithium has gained fame as the Periodic Table’s best element for lightweight, high energy batteries. It’s a Musk-have if your goal is to mass-produce electric Teslas!

    Also, whenever someone spouts utter nonsense about “the unlimited energy of hydrogen fusion,” please do not believe a word of it. Everyone who says such things, if they are being honest, is really talking about burning lithium. The lithium is bred into tritium, the heaviest and only radioactive hydrogen isotope (it is used in some self-glowing signs). The tritium, and thus the lithium, makes all commercially conceivable fusion energy schemes possible. So if you hear phrases like “limitless hydrogen fusion energy,” please translate them to the more realistic (and still very challenging) phrase “lithium-based fusion economy.” It will give you a much better idea of which stock to invest in.

    Long after Gamow, but long before neutron star collisions, a plausible but remarkable explanation for most lithium, beryllium, and boron isotopes was finally derived. They are primarily fragments of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, created at the exact moment of core-collapse in Type II supernovas.[2] Talk about intense beginnings! The elements survive literally because the star is annihilated and scattered to the winds before it can burn them up!

    But what I like most about this particular nucleosynthesis is the mugger’s identity. What monstrously powerful particle can shatter such stable, law-abiding nuclei as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen? And do it even as they are being blasted out into deep space!

    The answer? Neutrinos — the most ghostly of all particles. Something in the range of 100 trillion of them, depending on your size, pass through your body every second. They come straight from the core of our sun, pass through the earth as if it was not there, and then through you whether it is night or day. That’s how ghostly and non-reactive they are.

    Yet a supernova produces so many high-energy neutrinos that they shatter nuclei of some of the stablest elements known.

    Wow!

    ----------
    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gamow#Big_Bang_nucleosynthesis

    [2] 1999 “Lithium-Beryllium-Boron: Origin and Evolution”
    http://cds.cern.ch/record/393331/files/9907171.pdf

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  13. This is some pretty crazy thoughts. But I’ve long wondered if fully stable ‘atoms’ could exist with wholly different field configurations, such that they could overlap in physical space with our own atoms, with hardly any interaction. The thinking here is that the electromagnetic (EM) force that holds atoms together might be replaced, in such hypothetical atoms, with a force that is a mimicry of the EM field/force, but couples very weakly to electric and magnetic fields. In effect, this would entail an entirely different type of ‘charge’ than electric charge carried by the equivalent of electrons and protons, which would interact with EM fields many tens of magnitudes less than electric charges interact with each other.

    But, if the strong force, QCD, remained unchanged in the baryonic particles of such hypothetical matter, then one could envision ‘hybrid’ atoms where the neutrons in ordinary atoms are replaced with the equivalent of protons in this exotic matter. The result might be stable ‘atoms’ where a cloud of ordinary and exotic electrons coexist in quantized orbits, neither electron species ‘feeling’ the other, for the most part. The physical motion of valence, current conducting electrons of each species in a wire made up of such hybrid matter, would allow harnessing the fields of this exotic matter, as readily as we harness electric and magnetic fields with our own technology.

    Years ago I incorporated this fanciful idea in a sci-fi story, which I’ve neglected to complete. Perhaps sci-fi is the only realm where such things could exist.

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    1. David, that's an intriguing hard sci-fi concept. It could add a critical plot twist to a wide variety of time, place, and cultural story settings. You should finish your story!

      Delete
    2. Terry, thank you for the encouragement. My first foray into science fiction writing was right after the first Moon landing. I remember being so excited that I penned a short story about humans permanently inhabiting the Moon beneath enormous, circular, plastic domes hundreds of miles across. They would be held up by the equivalent of one atmosphere of pressure at sea level on Earth. With 1/6th the gravity as Earth ordinary people would be able to take flight in muscle powered aircraft, which would be a major form of recreation. I submitted it to Readers Digest, but they declined to publish it.

      Then I decided to write a longer, book length, sci-fi story incorporating some of the ideas presented in Apollo landing inspired story, which is the story I referenced above. It was based on the travels of a technology analyst working for a Wall Street investment firm. He visits various companies around the world, and on his itinerary are visits to the Moon and Mars where many high tech companies are located. In the early part of the story he visits a company which synthesizes hundreds of pounds worth of special atoms annually. These fictional atoms utilize newly discovered, long-lived particles in their nuclei, which cause their electron clouds to shrink hundreds or thousands of times smaller than is seen in normal atoms. Metal fabricated from this atomic matter can produce super intense magnetic fields, and thus it is used in high thrust output ion engines for space travel.

      I got lazy and stopped at about 58 pages, and the manuscript collected dust till the mid 90’s when I had the fanciful idea that I described on “Warp Drive News. Seriously!” which suggested that maybe particles carrying spatial or temporal ‘charge’ whose ‘fields’ were every bit as strong as electric and magnetic fields might exist. From there it was a short leap to wondering if ‘atoms’ could be constructed from such weird particles. Quickly realizing that it would be incredibly hard to manipulate such fictional atoms for technological use due to their lacking electric charges I hit upon the idea of ‘hybrid’ atoms as described in the above post. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure bi-polar spatial and bi-polar temporal fields would violate the various energy conditions of General Relativity, thus confining such exotic particles/atoms to the realm of the imagination.

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    3. David... not bad, not bad at all... interesting overall plot line, and one with good potential for some nice "moments of wonder and discovery" along the way (I'm especially a fan of such moments in sci-fi.

      You do realize that for your plotline, your atoms would also make delightful and plausible muon-fusion-style catalysts for obtaining direct cold nuclear fusion, yes? It's an idea your could introduce along the way, as folks discover more ways to use the materials.

      Really good sci-fi must include non-obvious plot twists and characters that the reader comes to care about. That often is the trickiest part, of course, and in fact is why good fiction in general is a tricky business. Most of us are just not that good at synthesizing and then emulating other folks with complicated personalities, and then allowing them to interact plausibly -- and always, for sci-fi, with that element of wonder also coming into play, to address the core audience of folks looking for just that in sci-fi.

      Chaucer had an idea early and right: While in your intro you legally must say "not based on any real person or event", the truth is that the most vivid and believable characters in all fiction types are based on very real people that the author has met, usually amalgamated in various ways to keep, say, your relative or friend from deciding to push you out a window after they read it. Authors of course also use themselves, but that's risky if you take yourself too seriously. Some of the worst sci-fi I've ever read was written by a famous computer person (with help from a real sci-fi author) who took himself very seriously. Ouch! A recipe for a writing disaster, that! You could even tell where the real sci-fi author just gave up and said "do what you want, I give up!"

      So again, good luck, and I hope you give it a try! We all tend to underestimate what we are capable of, so pushing our envelopes is always a good idea.

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    4. Terry….wow, that is a fantastic application idea for the shrunken atoms in the futuristic novel! I had heard about muon catalyzed fusion years ago but never thought of its utility for proximity enhanced fusion in the shrunken atoms of the novel. That’s something I will definitely incorporate. In the novel I had written about delta-winged, hypersonic transports taking passengers from the Earth’s surface to orbiting stations where they would transfer to deep space vehicles for the remaining part of their journey to the Moon, Mars, and more remote outposts. Both of these types of transport used fusion reactors in the novel to power their ion engines, but I was thinking in terms of fusion reactors using magnetic fields to confine the reacting particles.

      Going from memory of what I wrote in the novel these shrunken atoms, as with radioactive atoms, had characteristic half-lives, decaying over time. Consequently, components made of this matter, which is dubbed "hyperdense matter" in the novel, would develop microscopic fissures, as individual atoms reverted to their normal size, that eventually would result in the component’s obsolescence and the need to replace the part. But the half-lives of these hyperdense atoms would be measured in years or decades, unlike the 2.2 microsecond life span for muonic atoms. So your suggestion of using the smaller radius atoms of the novel to greatly enhance the rate of fusion over normal matter is a shoe-in.

      In front of me I have a partial manuscript of the novel from a preliminary search. When I made my last move I put all my accumulated papers on everything under the sun, like stuff printed out from the internet all the way back to the mid 90’s into plastic containers. I have maybe 10 or 15 of these containers to sort through to find the rest of the novel. But from what I’ve got in front of me, and recollections of what I wrote, the character development in the novel was rather weak. Definitely need to spice these characters up quite a bit, as they are rather bland and one-dimensional at present. In my time-travel, sci-fi novel mentioned downthread I think I succeeded somewhat in the character development.

      Delete
  14. Neutron star mergers, like supernovae, actually blow out their leftovers throughout galaxies.

    What is fascinating is how various processes on earth serve to concentrate these elements.

    E.g., platinum, 78 protons (and 114-120 neutrons in various stable isotopes). It is apparently at an average concentration of 0.005 parts per million in the earth's crust. Commercial extraction of platinum is from ores that range in concentration from 5 to 15 parts per million; i.e., a 1000-3000 fold concentration above the background.

    By the way, per Wiki's "Abundance of the chemical elements" a few of the heavy elements, e.g., mercury, atomic number 80, is formed more by "dying low-mass stars" rather than "merging neutron stars".

    What a fantastic universe!



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  15. If one is inclined to believe certain reports at face value, there may be ‘empirical’ evidence that potentially is consistent with the existence of the hypothetical “hybrid” atoms mentioned in my earlier comment at 10:23 AM, January 24, 2021. Writing in 1972 to Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the scientific consultant to the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, I brought to his attention the following case report: In 1953 Dr. Wells Allen Webb, an applied chemist, observed a disc shaped object hovering in a horizontal position, which subsequently accelerated in a direction away from the observer so that it presented a circular face to him. Observing it with and without polaroid glasses he noted that three dark rings alternated with lighter areas around the object when observed with the polaroid glasses.

    Eight years after this occurrence Dr. James Harder of Colorado State University chancing upon this report drew the following conclusion. From data contained in the original report he determined that the object was sighted against a portion of the sky such that the direction of the sun’s rays were perpendicular to the line of sight between the observer and object. The scattered blue light of the sky forming the background for this object was therefore elliptically polarized.

    A magnetic or electric field by the Faraday Effect parallel to a ray of light passing through a medium will cause a rotation of the plane of polarization. Harder deduced that the first dark ring observed around the object was due to the plane of polarization of the background light being rotated through 90 degrees and thus being rejected by the polarizing filter of the glasses. The second dark ring he concluded was light being rotated through 270 degrees and the third ring 450 degrees. Taking the properties of the atmosphere into account, as they related to the Faraday Effect, Dr. Harder calculated that to produce the first ring a magnetic field of 200,000 gauss acting over a distance of 40 meters would be required. To produce all three rings a field of a million gauss would be required acting over the same distance.

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  16. Neutron stars being basically made up of neutrons are giant atoms. This means that large atoms, whilst they destabilise due to the size of the nucleus, regain stability once the atom is large enough for graviry to kick in.

    Who says we can't see atoms? They're up there in sky at night!

    It also means that we can only ignore gravitational effects for small atoms and not these super massive atoms.

    It also means that the periodic table doesn't end with those large radioactive atoms, but goes past the ocean of instability to arrive at the shores of the neutron atoms.

    But why stop there? We can carry on building ever large neutron stars until we hit black holes. This latter idea was one of t'Hoofts, so I'm not claiming credit gor this idea.

    The periodic table should be divided between the microscopic atoms and the cosmological atoms.

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  17. Thanks Sabine,

    Your plot of the islands of stability in the video has the number of protons and number of neutrons backwards. Stable, heavy nuclei have many more neutrons than protons. U-235: 92 protons; 143 neutrons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gosh, you are right! I'm so sorry about that :/ I've added a note to the info below the video.

      Delete
  18. Mulling over the idea, posed in my first comment, of exotic atoms where the electromagnetic (EM) field is replaced by an equivalent field that has a vanishingly small interaction with the EM field, one could imagine such atoms being good candidates for Dark Matter, which emits no light. Their exotic fields, despite having the strength of EM fields, would be generally neutral, and thus also not readily detectable. But with these (hypothetical) atoms sharing the same nuclear forces as normal matter it would be expected that a fast moving exotic nuclei could recoil off of a normal matter nucleus and thus be detected. So, unless, such recoils were misinterpreted as conventional processes in Dark Matter detectors, this speculative type of matter, even if it exists, can be ruled out as a DM candidate.

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  19. I saw the YouTube video "Where do atoms come from?" Why weren't quarks mentioned? They are the elemental particles that make up neutrons and protons (along with gluons that made up the primordial "soup" of the Big Bang. These elementals would have to aggregate before any protons or neutrons would be formed would they not?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it is correct that quarks and gluons make up neutrons and protons, thank you for explaining this. It is not mentioned in the video because the video is about how atoms form, not how nucleons form, and understanding the formation of the latter is unnecessary to understand the former.

      Delete
  20. Sabine,

    on page
    https://www.internetchemie.info/chemische-elemente/atommassen.php
    you can find the atomic masses of the elements and their isotopes:

    Franzi mentioned the production of

    Os(186) from Re(185) + p

    In atomic units:
    Input mass = 184.952955 + 1.0078250322 = 185.96078003
    Output mass = 185.95384

    The output products are heavier than the final product:
    Delta mass = 0.00694003

    So energy is released, as Franzi mentioned.

    I assume that the data on the Internet is correct.

    Greetings Stefan

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    Replies
    1. Stevan,

      No one doubts that there are certain isotopes into which you can push protons and release energy. His or her claim is that this is always the case.

      Delete
    2. The output products are heavier than the final product:

      Should that not be 'input products'?

      Delete
  21. Are neutron star collisions also expected to produce elements from the island of stability? Can strange quarks make such super heavy elements more stable due to lowering the Fermi energy?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The answer to your first question is in principle yes, but probably very difficult to ever detect. As to your second question, I remember nuclear physicists speculating about this, but don't know what came out of this, if anything. The issue with nuclear theory is that there's very little one can calculate from first principles. Now, there some data on small hyperons, but how reliably you can extrapolate from that to heavy nuclei, I don't know. (Google "hypermatter".)

      Delete
    2. Sorry, let me correct the first answer. It could be that the probability for this is so small that the answer is for all practical purposes no. I don't know if someone has ever estimated this.

      Delete
  22. > It was a mostly structureless soup of subatomic particles called a plasma.

    Sabine,

    can you please elaborate a bit on the question how these subatomic particles came into existence? To my knowledge that happened at the end of inflation during "reheating". So to my simple understanding these particles must have been "encoded" in the inflaton field before they came into existence somehow. But how can one imagine that?

    Do we talk about some kind of a phase transition? But then its not analogous to e.g. liquid -> solid, where the atoms, resp. molecules exist in both phases, just arranged differently.

    Regards
    Timm

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    Replies
    1. Hi Timm,

      Yes, that's the standard explanation. However, please note that inflation is an unconfirmed hypothesis. Just because a lot of physicists believe it is correct doesn't mean there is actual evidence for it being correct.

      This process of "reheating" is a conjecture that isn't necessary to explain anything we actually do observe. By Occam's razor, therefore, we shouldn't consider it to be part of the theory. And in fact, inflation (and reheating and so on) isn't part of the "standard model" of cosmology, which really starts only after this.

      Having said that, the idea is that the inflaton field decays, and it decays into all particles, but most of these particles decay again. In the end the ones that are left are the (mostly) stable ones that we observe.

      I don't think it's a phase transition in general, though it might be in some models.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your answer, Sabine.

      The question remains how Physicists explain the decay of the inflaton field into particles (inflationary theories seem to be accepted among Physicists). I am just a chemist and have no idea. Is the information which characterizes particles like quarks and gluons somehow existing in the field? Or are these particles represented in the field, however somehow smeared out and thus not as single particles?
      What do you think?

      Regards
      Timm

      Delete
    3. Timm,

      In a quantum theory every particle strictly speaking contains every other particle as long as they interact, and since all particles interact at least gravitationally this means they all contain each other.

      Delete
    4. Sabine Hossenfelder wrote:
      “In a quantum theory every particle strictly speaking contains every other particle as long as they interact, and since all particles interact at least gravitationally this means they all contain each other.”

      Sabine, that is a very intriguing statement.

      Are you referring to literally all particles throughout the entire universe “containing each other”? Or are you simply referring to the particles involved in some localized situation of a singular object, or group of objects?
      _______

      Delete
    5. Well, that's as "literally" as anything in quantum mechanics, which means it's just what the math says. If two particles can interact, then one of them can contain virtual particles of the other. A photon, for example, could be said to contain virtual electron-positron pairs. It comes from the same place as saying that the vacuum isn't empty. Particles aren't "empty" either.

      Delete
  23. It would be great if in your posts wherever you say "chevk previous post" that said post contains a link.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Atoms could have been formed via transformation of dark energy.

    Super black-hole (or call it super dark-star) might reduce its mass by transforming it to dark energy that has permeated/saturated the universe for an indefinite length of 'time' already..

    Or it might have shed part of its mass as dark matter..

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  25. @Terry Bollinger

    I forgot to mention that I submitted to several Hollywood movie producers, not too long ago, a completed 34 page, time travel sci-fi story, but was told that the manuscript had to be in a special format to be screen adapted. Getting that done is on my bucket list.

    Now, I don’t know if you have been following my comments but I’ve come across something that (could be) quite extraordinary with respect to the concept of (hypothetical) “hybrid” atoms that I mentioned at 12:44 PM, January 24, 2021. In that comment I detailed a UFO report where multiple, concentric dark rings surrounded a disc-shaped UFO accelerating away from a witness in 1953. On July 31st, 1952, at 10:15 AM, Mr. George J. Stock, of Passaic, New Jersey took five photos, of a domed, disc-shaped object that he claimed hovered near his home at a height of 200 feet at its lowest point. In 2 of the 5 photos a dark ring can be clearly seen around the object. The photo where the object’s bottom is partly facing towards the witnesses provides the clearest view of this dark ring.

    In my comment at 12:44 PM, on January 24th, I related the story of how an applied chemist observed a disc like object with polaroid glasses and noted concentric dark rings, which was later interpreted by a professor at Colorado State Univ. as possibly resulting from an intense magnetic field filtering out the elliptically polarized background light. In the Passaic, New Jersey case a box camera was used. Whether it had a polarizing filter on the lens I haven’t determined yet, not having fully read the Air Force report on it. This report (with the photos) is at “Saturday Night UFORIA”, “The Photographer’s Tale”. I found it by googling “1952 UFO photos, by George J. Stock, Passaic, New Jersey”.

    As far as the “hybrid’ atoms idea that I alluded to at 10:23 AM, January 24th, 2021, its dipole spatial or dipole temporal fields would, as far as I know, conflict with the various energy conditions integral to General Relativity. But if GR is superseded by a more comprehensive theory in the future, maybe such wildly speculative concepts as spatial and temporal fields would be allowed.

    ReplyDelete
  26. "then catch electrons to make atoms" -- Where they got electrons from?
    Are the numbers of existing protons and electrons equal at the early beginning of Universe?

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thanks as ever for this, most interesting.

    Specifically - I have spent most of my life since I was about 10 or 11 thinking that elements heavier than iron were formed in supernovae.

    I learned this from the book Please Explain by Isaac Asimov, which I loved as a child. The book is still wonderful and I heartily recommend to anyone with children; it is out of print but you can get copies. It is a series of questions and answers; this point is addressed in Q17 ('In a star how far can fusion go?'). However the book was written in 1973 so I guess the issues with the supernova theory had not been noted and the neutron star merger theory hadn't been developed yet!

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  28. Some of the elements heavier than iron were formed in supernovae, but how much depends on the individual element. For example, most of the titanium and lead were formed by the "slow neutron capture" process in aging, low-mass stars, while most of the iridium, platinum, and gold were formed by neutron-star mergers, as were all of the thorium and uranium.

    There's a nice version of the periodic table with different elements colored by how much different processes contribute to their formation in this Science article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! That is a really great picture and article

      Delete
  29. Sabine, You don't seem to consider the very credible work concluding that or sun (and likely most in our neck of the sequence) is a '4th generation star'. Cyclic models such as Turok's, 'Conformal', 'DFM' etc. re able to provide the mechanism for how and also overcome the 'pre BB state' problem. Do you dismiss the Solar science work, if so why? or have you just not studied it?

    ReplyDelete
  30. Has anyone worked out the list of currently unexplained, paradoxical findings and results in fundamental (particle) physics and astrophysics?
    Black matter (BM) and black energy (BE) are the main ones and could liderate the list. So...

    1 and 2: BM, BE.
    3. Spiral galaxies' Winding Problem
    4. Anomalous high prevalence of symmetric (vs asymmetric) double systems of stars.
    5. Black Holes (Do we really understand how they originate amd what is there inside them -other than calling it a 'singularity'?)

    ... would be just to start up.

    Is it too outlandish to suppose that the solution to all (or most of) these problems might be the same ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice reference!
      But useless FOPP. 90+ prooblems? No way.
      Some of them are not really actual burning problems, like the problem of time, or the size of the universe. They are important questions that we might answer some day, but we do not need to urgently solve them now to make any progress.

      Maybe we could work a better list of those problems that are really puzzling AND that we should already be in position to solve, AND that relate to foundational isues.

      BTW, I notice that the spiral galaxies winding problem is not in the list! -it was apparently 'solved' by Lin-Shu in 1960.. obviously an adhoc patch that makes no sense. 90% of galaxies are spiral (approx, I believe), and we do not know why the spiral pattern does not wash away, and we do not think it a problem? This is determined by GR alone! We SHOULD be able to understand.

      Likewise for the double stars systems. There is a scarcity of observations, admitted, but the same happens. Here also GR is presumably the only mechanism involved.

      Now, we could separate them in 2 groups: Those related to QM and its foundational issues, like locality and the Quantum Gravity/Unification problem, (presumably they originate all in the same QM 'missing link') and those related to GR, including most of the cosmological-astrophysical issues.
      Regarding the latter group, I would focus on the ones that are simple and well-defined, yet puzzling, because they presumably should be solved by a redefinition or restatement/completion of GR, like DE, DM, spiral galaxies and Black Holes.

      By the way, here is a new problem not in the list:
      Given that every galaxy has one and only one 'massive black hole' as it seems, what is the role of the bkack hole with regards to the 'physiology' of the galaxy?

      Black Holes dont look like incidental bystanders in their galaxy, if that was the case, there would be a random number of them.. They seem like they are playing a ROLE. What is it?

      Anyway, thanks for your link, I enjoy a lot your videos, appreciate your kindness and availability, AND I think you've repeatedly set the questions straight by stating that Black Holes and Quantum Gravity ARE the most pressing problems now in physics, and the ones most worth of attention. which I fully agree.
      Of course, this post is not a question or sorts,but rather a general commment on the topics that you seem to be enjoying most. I, like everyone (especially every non-physicist!) , think to have an answer to most of them. Lets hope it turns out right.

      My favourite guess? A paraphrasis of Einstein's:
      GR is right, but incomplete.

      (Mind you, most current MOND theories assume GR is wrong, but its them who might be wromg. ;-)))

      Delete
  31. To put it bluntly, on black holes (BH):
    Where does the energy come from, what is the fuel for the huge amount of energy transfer that takes place in and around BHs?
    BHs have been called the largest energy plants in the univers. And no nuclear reaction is occurring there. What does drive it?
    Not what generated it, which we know, but what actually drives it once it has been formed.
    No answer provided. Everyone talking about the information loss, while the elephant in the room is roaming.
    There happens to be cool hint, this space too small to discuss, and my credit slowly fading away...

    ReplyDelete
  32. In a 2005 lecture celebrating the 100 years of Einstein's Special Relativity, Kip Thorne states that the slowing of time predicted by SR was measured and confirmed in 1976 on earth. However, the results of a similar attempt in 1955 to check it at the sun's surface (using emission spectra for known elements from light emitted by the sun) ended up in 'controversial results', attributed to the sun being 'messy'. (Youtube video "Einstein's General Relativity, from 1905 to 2005", (33:12)).

    I'd point out that time dilation is the only current way to verify Relativity independently of mechanical/gravity related observations, since curvature of light and gravitational lensing ultimately resort either to the same equations as Virial theorem or are adjusted to data obtained from them.

    The question is: How 'controversial' were the results?
    Does anybody know where to find the reference?

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  33. Let me please retract the question, recent observations in good accordance with predictions:
    Gonzalez et at, Arxiv 2020: The solar gravitational redshift from HARPS-LFC Moon spectra - A test of the general theory of relativity.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Notice though that this cannot be considered a truly 'independent' test of GR, since the results are compared to predictions obtained through a formula that includes M(sun) as a factor. (Which was derived from Std gravity/relativity equations).
    In other words, either M(sun) and gravitational redshift are both correct, or they are both wrong.
    It is an amazingly precise and convincing experiment that confirms the 'consistency' of the theory.

    ReplyDelete

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