Holmes; Are you carbonizing onions or smoking rope in that calabash again?
BY GEORGE WATSON LOOK AT THIS! GREAT BALLS OF FIRE! Neutrons out of something the size of a football from a sustainable D to D fusion. Seems it was thought up years ago by old Farnsworth, the fellow who invented television, but the implications were ignored. Now it’s getting investigated again! Take a look:
Well that’s all quite interesting Holmes but what does a gadget like that have to do with what we were talking about–the mysterious Tunguska event of 1908? Surely you’re not suggesting that some type of machine caused all that damage?
No-no of course not Watson—no machine made by intelligent beings anyway. Do you remember my mentioning fullerenes and how they seem to form during high-energy events?
Yes Holmes but wha. . .
Well I’ve done some more reading on these carbon structures and learned that they can also form concentrically, like Russian dolls, when carbon soot is irradiated with ions, an electron beam, or even from carbon crushed at high temperatures. In fact the process has been recorded as it occurs because it can conveniently be produced using the energy of an electron microscope. The moniker that seems to have stuck for such a multi shelled ball is Carbon Onion, which is visually descriptive but does not truly convey the dynamic aspect of these natural atomic vises. In action they perform as carbon crushers and can actually produce diamond crystal at their geometric center! Take a look for yourself:
A remarkable molecular structure Holmes but other than concentric shells and electron beams I fail to see any functional similarity between the new neutron generator and the carbon balls. Are you suggesting there is?
Precisely Watson! I believe there is indeed a similar mechanism at work here. Remember that the evidence so far accumulated at the Tunguska site suggests that a primitive type of carbonaceous chondrite was responsible but there are some isotopic differences from what would be expected. In particular it seems that there is not the typical abundance of deuterium. E. M. Kolesnikov, et al., in a paper: Finding of probable Tunguska Cosmic Body material: isotopic anomalies of carbon and hydrogen in peat, published in Planetary and Space Science (vol. 47, 1999) attribute this to the punitive comet having a deuterium to hydrogen ratio more similar to Jupiter or Saturn. However V. A. Alekseev in: New aspects of the Tunguska meteorite problem, which was published in the same journal but earlier (vol. 46, 1998) attributes the depletion of deuterium observed by Kolesnikov to a surface interaction of a hypersonic deuterium plasma, which he experimentally showed capable of producing excess tritium. In other words some degree of fusion seemed to be occurring, which would of course consume deuterium. And like the new generator Watson, D to D fusion will give off neutrons so there should be some evidence of this in the affected area. Indeed, according to Boris F. Bidyukov, a thermoluminescence specialist:
“The efforts of researchers of the Tunguska problem are being concentrated on solving the problems connected with the necessity to remove the contradictions resulting from a number of paradoxes. Each of the paradoxes contains some logic contradiction reflecting, as a matter of fact, the state of researches at the moment. Here is a list of the major paradoxes:
Let us consider radioactivity paradox at greater lenght. It attracts our attention due to the following circumstances. First of all, everything that somehow connected with radioactivity has been mentioned only in passing for quite a period of time; moreover, – as some annoying nonsense. Secondly, of late, volumes have been accumulated thanks to numerous publications and still unpublished catalogues. These materials ought to be systematized and reconsidered in the context of new scientific approaches. As far as we know there have not been any attempts so far to single out the whole complex of radioactivity contradictions as one more paradoxal aspect of the Tunguska problem.
Weakening of thermo-luminescent characteristics of rock as a result of a shock-wave compression becomes apparent in natural conditions only with impact interaction, and their local intensification was observed in laboratory samples of alpha-quartz with megabar effects which is far beyond the conditions of the Tunguska catastrophe. The only adequate source of thermo-luminiscent anomalies in this area might be radioactive emanation and, moreover, in a broad spectral range (from thermal to strong). Studies, which have been carried out from the middle of the 60s up to the present day by three independent groups of researchers using various natural materials, have shown statistically valid pecularities of TL-characteristics field distribution. There have been found structures with parameters of low indices. Their formation must be connected with the effect of thermal irradiation. As for the structures showing intensification of TL-characteristics above the midbackground level they are undoubtedly connected with the activity of strong penetrating irradiation (X-rays, gamma-rays, neutron and proton streams). Weakening of TL is also possible with beyond-threshold streams of strong radiation (the so called “radiation annealing”) is exceeded.
A complex of various research of radioactivity traces in the area of the catastrophe shows either their complete absence (argon-39 method), or some fluctuations within the limits of the natural background (beta-activity, radiocarbon). At the same time the TL-method undoubtedly points to the traces of the activity of strong radiation which were revealed in the minerals of the underlying stratum of the surface. It looks as if radioactivity is present and absent at the same time.
In our opinion, accentuating the phenomena mentioned above will attract attention to this aspect of the Tunguska problem and will assist in further definition of the tasks aimed at solving the paradox under consideration at the problem stage of research.”
But Holmes the weight of scientific opinion contends that the effects of the Tunguska event can be explained by the release of kinetic energy alone, after all the potential energy of any massive object traveling at tens of kilometers per second is enormous–velocity squared you know.
Right Watson, but sometimes the weight of opinion is tilted by the scale of an assumed phenomenon. Remember that every aspect of this event is being retro calculated; the mass and velocity of the unmeasured object can thus be diddled to account for the gauged destruction! So if there was a release of energy beyond what was produced kinetically its contribution to the damage could well be absorbed by postulating a more massive object or higher encounter velocity. I think that it might be illuminating to examine some phenomena that could well be common to collisions with carbonaceous objects but is most often observed on a smaller scale–ball lightning.
Holmes! Surely your not suggesting that the Tunguska event was due to a huge ball of lightning!
No-no Watson not entirely but I think it likely that this poorly understood natural phenomenon played some role, perhaps a large one, on the morning of June 30, 1908.
You have been doping your pipe Holmes! Ball lightning is just transient ionized gas and the weird sounding descriptions of its behavior are most likely due to persistence of vision–rather like being popped by a flash bulb.
Ah Watson you speak so confidently and no doubt some observations are flawed but this phenomenon has a long history of observation. The problem is that ball lightning is neither frequent nor reproducible by artificial means so it has been virtually impossible to study closely. Unfortunately theories of the learned have on more than this occasion cast doubt upon observations made by those who are not considered peers, as the following excerpt points out.
Excerpted from THE BLIND EYE OF SCIENCE, by Ron Westrum, in “Fringes of Reason, a Whole Earth Catalog“, 1989, Point Foundation
THE SELF-CONSTRUCTED MODEL
In 1819, Ernst Chladni reflected back on his struggles for the recognition of meteorites. While the Enlightenment, the 18th century intellectual movement that examined accepted doctrines of the time, had brought certain benefits, he felt it also brought with it certain intellectual problems. Now scientists “thought it necessary to throw away or reject as error anything that did not conform to a self-constructed model.” The very success of scientific experiment and theory had led to a misplaced confidence that *what was real was already within the circle of science.* What was outside, therefore, what did not conform to scientists’ theories, could be dismissed by invoking scientific authority and by ignoring or ridiculing observations not supported by it.
More recently, in 1979, the medical researcher Ludwik Fleck noted in his book The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact a very similar trend. He wrote:
What we are faced with here is not so much simple passivity or mistrust of new ideas as an active approach which can be divided into several stages.
(1) A contradiction to the system appears unthinkable
(2) What does not fit into the system remains unseen;
(3) alternatively, if it is noticed, either it is kept secret, or
(4) laborious efforts are made to explain an exception in terms that do not contradict the system.
(5) Despite the legitimate claims of contradictory views, one only tends to see, describe, or even illustrate those circumstances which corroborate current views and thereby give them substance.
What does not fit the theory is thus excluded. The anomalous event is forced outside the official circle of consciousness into a kind of outlaw existence.
This happened with the unusual luminous phenomenon known as “ball lightning.” This form of lightning appears as a luminous ball, usually smaller than a basketball, and is quite short-lived (usually less than a minute.) It has a long history of observation, but for many decades was an outlaw event in meteorology. In the 1930s, W. J. Humphreys, an influential official in the U.S. Weather Bureau, had argued persuasively that ball lightning was probably an optical illusion. There was subsequently little mention of ball lightning in meteorology textbooks, and persons with scientific training who observed ball lightning generally kept quiet about it. When commented upon, it was described as a rare event. One of the reasons that it appeared to be a rare event is shown in anecdotes like the following, which appeared in THE LIGHTNING BOOK by Peter Viemeister.
During the summer of 1937 several technical observers on duty at 500 5th Ave, during the Empire State Building lightning program, saw what might be interpreted as ball lightning, not once but four times. One of the engineers, now the chief technical executive of a large power company, saw a bluish luminescence slowly descend the 38-foot tower of the Empire State Building after four of the ten or eleven strokes that hit the tower that evening. Fearing that his colleagues would regard him as a lightning-ball “quack”, he was hesitant to speak about what he had seen, but decided to mention it anyway. Suprisingly several of the others admitted seeing the same things. These observations were omitted from the technical reports since they did not appear on the recording cameras nor on the oscillograph records.
Thus, because there is no *spontaneous reporting* of the anomalous event, scientists may assume that there is no event to be reported. That this might be a self-fulfilling prophecy is hardly considered. Part of the problem, of course, is that no one is *asked* whether they have seen an unclassified phenomenon. When surveys of technical personnel regarding ball lightning *were* done in 1966 at two national laboratories, many meteorologists were surprised to discover that four percent of the potential observers in one laboratory had seen it. This hardly qualifies as a rare event!
The problem with ball lightning is that no one has yet found a satisfactory theory to explain it. It is tempting for physicists to argue, as some in fact have, that since it can’t be explained, it probably doesn’t exist! (i.e., if it doesn’t fit the self-constructed model, it’s not real.) So thousands of ball lightning sightings were ruled inadmissible and ignored. In the last decade or so, a much more positive attitude has prevailed, but the phenomenon is still far from completely accepted.
Watson I’ve a strong hunch that carbon onions are at the heart of ball lightning and their spherically symmetrical atomic vise-like properties facilitate a fusion reaction in certain high energy conditions such as an electrical storm, earthquake or an impact event! This would accord with experimental observations by Kenneth L. Corum and James F. Corum:
Experimentally, we have determined the ideal set of conditions for producing electric fireballs. They are:
1. Generate a lot of carbon or vaporized metal particles in a small region of space.
2. Create large electric fields in the same vicinity (on the order of 1 to 2 MV/m).
3. Rapidly elevate the temperature of the particles.
But not their conclusion:
Our conclusion is that these fireballs are primarily RF in origin, and not nuclear phenomena. Consistent with Tesla’s observations, they can be produced either by high current dump into hot air [“I am satisfied that the phenomenon of the fireball is produced by the sudden heating, to a high incandescence of a mass of air or other gas as the case may be, by the passage of a powerful discharge.” CSN page 368] or by the presence of resistively heated material particles [“I attribute them (fire balls) to the presence of material in the air at that particular spot which is of such nature, that when heated, it increases the luminosity.” CSN page 333] The latter would account for the “engine room fire balls’ produced by high current switches and relays. Finkelstein and Rubenstein once made a remarkable statement: “If this model is appropriate, then ball lightning has no relevance to controlled-fusion plasma research.” (Ref. 4) If should now be apparent that this position can be experimentally supported.
The interesting thing here Watson is that Corum and Corum specify carbon or vaporized metal as a necessary ingredient for producing ball lightning but in 1989 would not have been aware of molecular onion-like formations, which can also contain inorganic components. It is the ability of these multi-layered geodesic structures, when irradiated, to compress what is interior to them as well as focus the surrounding radiant energy to the exact center that makes them such good candidates for fusion facilitators.
A recent Scientific American article on fusion power points out the needed conditions:
The hydrogen bomb provides the proof that fusion can be made to happen. In an H-bomb, radiation from an atomic fission explosion acts as a trigger, heating and compressing a fuel container to ignite and burn the hydrogen inside. That sounds simple, but causing a fusion reaction to ignite and burn means forcing together the nuclei of two forms of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium so that they fuse to form helium nuclei, giving off enormous energy. The compression must be done with almost perfect symmetry so that the hydrogen is squeezed uniformly to high density.
. . .
Equally important has been progress in concentrating the intense energy onto a tiny fuel pellet. In the 1970s we began with electron beams and, in the 1980s, switched to beams of ions, which should heat a target to higher temperatures. But charged particles are hard to steer and to focus tightly into beams. X-rays have, in principle, a much more promising characteristic: they can uniformly fill the space around a fuel container, just as heat in an oven envelops a turkey. The prospect of initiating fusion by using pulsed power systems to create intense bursts of x-rays within a small reaction chamber has now emerged from research on a concept called the Z-pinch, which dates back to the beginnings of magnetic confinement fusion research in the 1950s.
. . .
To trigger fusion, the Z-pinch must be enclosed in a radiation chamber (or hohlraum, German for “cavity” or “hollow”) that traps the x-rays. In one system we have explored, the Z-pinch would be placed in a primary hohlraum, with the fuel contained in a smaller, secondary hohlraum. In another method, the pellet would sit in low-density plastic foam at the center of the imploding pinch inside the primary hohlraum. The key is that the x-rays generated as the pinch crashes onto itself, either onto the z axis or onto the foam, are contained by the hohlraum so that they uniformly bathe the fuel pellet, just as the casing of an H-bomb traps the radiation from the atomic trigger. Experiments over the past three years show that both methods should work, because we can now make a Z-pinch that remains uniform and intact long enough to do the job.
So you see Watson a good bit of what is required for successful fusion has to do with geometry. That is why the new neutron generator works well and is also why the chances are good that nested spherical structures like the carbon onion or its larger cousin the calabash have this potential too.
Well Holmes if you are correct this would certainly be an elementary solution to an ancient riddle but it seems that you are far from proving this case.
Right Watson; there is still quite a gap between speculation and demonstration of fact here, but to close this mystery at this time is not my intent–I am first interested in shedding further light upon the subject of high-energy phenomena such as occurs due to an impact event.
So without establishing unequivocally how impacts with carbonaceous objects produce neutrons, lets move back to this scale of phenomena with the assumption that it is possible. This may get us into hot water Watson but that is part of the fun!
What say you Holmes?!
Don’t worry Watson I’m not talking about trouble but speaking tongue in cheek here. You see one thing that neutrons are particularly good at is heating water and this ability also seems to be an observed aspect of ball lightning phenomena. This is why we should examine our premises as to what processes actually cause the hot water mentioned in what appear to be descriptions of impact events. First let’s look at this lightning ball or Kugelblitz observation from The Condon Report:
In one report, a red lightning ball the size of a large orange fell into a rain barrel which contained about 18 liters of water. The water boiled for a few minutes and was too hot to touch even after 20 minutes. Assuming
that the water temperature was initially 20°C,
that 1 liter of water evaporated, and
that 17 liters were raised to 90°C,
one needs roughly 8×106 joules of energy (equivalent to 2 kg of TNT). For a ball 10 cm in diameter (the size of a large orange), the energy density is then 5×109 joule/m3. But if all the air in a volume were singly-ionized, the energy density would be only 1.6×108 joule/m3. Both the energy content and the energy density of ball lightning as derived from the singular rain barrel observation seem incompatible with the non-explosive character of most Kugelblitz. Although many lightning balls emit a loud explosive (or implosive) noise upon decay, effects characteristic of the release of energies of the order of 2 kg of TNT have rarely been reported (understandably if the observer was within 3 meters) . Moreover, explosive or implosive decays have been noted indoors with no apparent heat or damage to nearby ceramic objects. Nevertheless, there are enough well-documented cases of extremely high energy Kugelblitz to make the water barrel report very believable. Probably there is a wide range of possible energies for a lightning ball, with the vast majority of Kugelblitz possessing energy densities less than that of singly-ionized air. The minimum possible energy of a lightning ball is that required to illumine a sphere about 25 cm in diameter with the brightness of a fluorescent lamp. With 10% efficiency, this means a source of 250 watts for 4 sec., or about 1000 joules of energy. We can only conclude with certainty that the energy of a lightning ball lies somewhere between 103 and 107 joules.
Theoretical efforts have focused on the energy estimate of the rain barrel observation. To maintain a fully-ionized, perhaps doubly-ionized mass of air requires either
a large amount of energy concentrated in a small volume and shielded from the surrounding air by a remarkably stable envelope, or
a continuous energy flow into a small volume, presumably by focusing power from the environment.
Theories which attempt to bottle fully-ionized plasma by magnetic fields or magnetovortex rings are faced with severe stability problems. There is no known way to contain plasma in the atmosphere for as long as a few seconds. Moreover, a fully-ionized plasma ball would be hotter and probably less dense than the surrounding air, so that it would tend to rise rather than descend or move horizontally. Chemical combustion theories cannot explain the high energy content or the remarkable antics of the ball. Nuclear reactions would require an electric potential of at least 106 volts between the center and surface of the ball, and a mean free path for the ions as long as the potential gap. This situation seems unlikely, and faces similar problems of stability.
Theories which depend on an outside source of energy such as microwaves or concentrated d-c fields cannot explain how ball lightning can survive indoors.
If energies as high as several megajoules are not required, we can try other hypotheses. One suggestion is that the lightning ball is a miniature thundercloud of dust particles, with a very efficient charge separation process. Continuous low energy lightning flashes are illuminating the cloud. Another idea is that a small amount of hydrocarbon, less than that required for combustion, is suddenly subjected to strong electric fields. The hydrocarbons become ionized and form more complex hydrocarbon molecules which clump together. Eventually there is enough combustible material in the center to allow a burning core. If the concentration of hydrocarbon decreases, the ball disappears if the concentration increases, the ball ignites explosively. (This represents the swamp gas theory for ball lightning).
Much depends on a reliable energy estimate for the Kugelblitz. If the energy is as high as indicated by the water barrel report, we have a real dilemma. At present no mechanism has been proposed for Kugelblitz which can successfully explain all the different types of reports. Probably several completely different processes can produce luminescent spheres in the atmosphere.
Another observation of water being heated by ball lightning comes from Doctor Kiril B. Chukanov:
Exactly what kind of energy are we talking about? In most cases, it is energy beyond human ability to reproduce with machines or current technology. Below are a few cases of natural ball lightning described in Problems of Ball Lightning by Soviet professor Boris Smirnov (Moscow, 1988).
In one case, a fireball of the size of a football rebounded along the surface of a street, leaving behind gouges one and a half meters in diameter.
In the city of Habarovsk, Russia, a sphere of ball lightning fell into a reservoir containing approximately 7,000 liters of water. In ten second the water started to boil. It boiled for approximately ten seconds. Then the sphere of ball lightning exploded. The yield of this ball lightning was the equivalent of two tons of TNT.
That certainly sounds impressive Holmes but how do we know that these claims are accurate?
Unfortunately Watson it is not something we can verify as of yet because we can’t make the fireballs but there are other reports that tend to support the notion that heating water is something that this phenomenon can do. For example: In ‘A Notable Historie containing foure voyages made by certaine French Captaines unto Florida’ (London: Thomas Dawson, 1587), which is a translation of ‘L’Histoire Notable De La Florida Situee Es Indes Occidentales’ (Paris: Guillaume Auvray, M.D.LXXXVI.), the account below begins: “…,until that on the 29. of August a lightning from heaven fell within halfe a league of our fort…” Thus the event occurred within a mile and a half of the fort but no damaging blast wave is mentioned. Of course there may have been a blast front that was not recorded however I have come across other acounts that seem to suggest more burn than bang, such as the Chinese report below the following modern translation of Laudonniere’s story.
From ‘Three Voyages‘ by Rene Laudonniere, translated by Charles E. Bennett (The University Presses of Florida, Gainsville, 1975 pp 88-90):
So things moved along, and the hate of Chief Satouriona against me continued. On August 29 there fell on the fort such a stroke of lightning that I think it more worthy of interest and of being recorded than any unusual thing that has yet come to pass, more strange than historians have ever written about. The fields were at that time all green and half covered with water, and yet the lightning in one instant consumed about 500 acres and burned with such a bright heat that all the birds which lived in the meadows were consumed. This thing continued for three days. It left us in wonderment, because we could not guess where all the fire came from. At first we had the opinion that the Indians had burned their houses for fear of us, abandoning their old places. Then we thought that they might have observed some ships in the sea and, following their usual custom, lighted up fires here and there to show that people lived in this land. Finally not being reassured, I decided to send to Chief Serranay to find out the truth. But as I was on the point of sending out a boat to ascertain the facts, six Indians arrived from the land of Chief Allicamany. On entering, they made a long statement, but first they presented several baskets of corn, pumpkins, and grapes. Then they spoke of the amiable alliance that Allicamany wished to enter into with me. They said he could hardly wait, from day to day, until the hour would come when it would please me to put him in my service. They said that in view of the obedience that he had given me, he found it very strange that I should direct such a cannonade against his dwelling, making many of the green prairies burn away right up to the waterline, so much so that he expected to see the fire in his house. Because of this he humbly begged me to order my men not to shoot any more toward his lodging, otherwise he would have to abandon his land and go to a place more distant from us. When we heard the foolish opinion of this man, which might nevertheless be very profitable for us, I spoke expediently as to what I thought of the matter at that time, responding to the Indians with a happy countenance and saying that what they had told me of the obedience of their chief was very agreeable with me because previously he had not behaved himself in that way toward me, especially when I had told him to send me the prisoners that he detained of the great Olata Ouae Outina, even though he [Satouriona, i.e., Chief of Allicamany] counted them unimportant. I told him that this was the principal reason why I had sent the cannonade, and not that I had wanted to reach his house, as I could easily have done that if I had wanted to do so. I said that I had been content to fire just halfway down the course to let him know of my power. I assured him that if he continued in his good behavior, my men would not be shooting at him in the future and I would be his loyal defender against his greatest enemies. The Indians were content with this response and returned to reassure their chief who, notwithstanding this reassurance, kept away from his home and at a distance of about twenty-five leagues for a period of about two months. At the end of three days the fire was entirely extinguished. But for two days after that there was such excessive heat in the air that the river near which we had our habitation became so hot that it seemed almost to boil. Many fish died and of many species, to such an extent that in the mouth of the river alone there were enough dead fish to fill fifty carts. The putrefaction in the air bred so many dangerous diseases among us that most of my men fell sick and seemed about ready to finish their days. However, our good Lord took care of us and we all survived without a single death.
Devastation caused by lightning was believed to be the result of sacred fire, sent by Heaven to stop dragon fights. “In the fifth month of the year yih-wei (probably 1295) on a place near the lake at I hing, all of a sudden there were two dragons which twisting around each other and fighting both fell into the lake, Their length had no sharp limits. In a short space of time a heavy wind came riding on the water, which reached a height of more than a chang (ten ch’ih or feet). Then there fell from the sky more than ten fire balls, having the size of houses of ten divisions. The two dragons immediately ascended (to the sky), for Heaven, afraid that they might cause calamity, sent out sacred fire to drive them away. Supposed that Heaven had been a little remiss for a moment, then within a hundred miles everything would have turned into gigantic torrents. When I recently passed by boat the Peach-garden of Teh Ts’ing, those paddy fields were all scorched and black, some tens of acres in all. Then we moored the boat to the bank and asked those villagers (for the reason). They said: ‘Yesterday noon there was a big, dragon which fell from the sky. Immediately he was burned by terrestial fire and flew away. For that what the dragons fear is fire'”
Capt. C. D. Swart, of the Dutch bark “J. P. A., ” makes the following report of a remarkable phenomenon observed by him at 5 p. m. March 19, 1887, in N. 37ø 39′ W. 57ø 00′:
During a severe storm saw a meteor in the shape of two balls, one of them very black and the other illuminated. The illuminated ball was oblong, and appeared as if ready to drop on deck amidships. In a moment it became as dark as night above, but below, on board and surrounding the vessel, everything appeared like a sea of fire. The ball fell into the water very close alongside the vessel with a roar, and caused the sea to make tremendous breakers which swept over the vessel. A suffocating atmosphere prevailed, and the perspiration ran down every person’s face on board and caused everyone to gasp for fresh air. Immediately after this solid lumps of ice fell on deck, and everything on deck and in the rigging became iced, notwithstanding that the thermometer registered 19ø Centigrade. The barometer during this time oscillated so as to make it impossible to obtain a correct reading. Upon an examination of the vessel and rigging no damage was noticed, but on that side of the vessel where the meteor fell into the water the ship’s side appeared black and the copper plating was found to be blistered. After this phenomenon the wind increased to hurricane force. (Monthly Weather Review, 15:84, 1887)
[The below is possibly related to the Rio Cuarto Craters in Argentina as these people live in that area. These stories have not spread far into the more northern parts of South America, suggesting that the Rio Cuarto event may have occurred recently. bobk]
MYTHS OF THE TOBA AND PILAGA INDIANS OF THE GRAN CHACO
By ALFRED METRAUX
PHILADELPHIA AMERICAN FOLKLORE SOCIETY 1946
THE GREAT FIRE
The people were all sound asleep. It was midnight when an Indian noticed that the moon was taking on a reddish hue. He awoke the others, “The moon is about to be eaten by an animal.” The animals preying on the moon were jaguars, but these jaguars were spirits of the dead. The people shouted and yelled. They beat their wooden mortars like drums, they thrashed their dogs, and some shot at random with their guns. They were making as much noise as they could to scare the jaguars and force them to let go their prey. Fragments of the moon fell down upon the earth and started a big fire. From these fragments the entire earth caught on fire. The fire was so large that the people could not escape. Men and women ran to the lagoons covered with bulrushes. Those who were late were overtaken by the fire. The water was boiling, but not where the bulrushes grew. Those who were in places not covered with bulrushes died and there most of the people were burnt alive. After everything had been destroyed the fire stopped. Decayed corpses of children floated on the water. A big wind and a rain storm broke out. The dead were changed into birds. The large birds came out from corpses of adults, and small ones from the bodies of children.
THE GREAT FIRE (SECOND VERSION)
Long ago Moon was attacked and wounded, and thus the Great Fire originated. As soon as people noticed blood on Moon, they started to chant and to shout and they struck their dogs to make them bark. Men discharged their rifles in the hope that the monster which was preying on Moon would be frightened and relinquish his prey, but all this was of no avail. Moon was far away and his weapons broke because his spear and his club were carved of soft yuchan wood (Chorisia insignis) instead of hard palo mataco (Achatocarpus praecox). A fragment of Moon fell down and caused a fire. Everyone rushed to a lagoon where abundant bulrushes grew. As the fire was spreading over the surface of the earth burning the grass and the trees, people entered the lagoon. Those who had taken refuge among the bulrushes were saved, but those who had remained in the open places perished in the boiling water.
Holmes it does seem that there is more mystery in this high-energy phenomena than I had thought.
Yes Watson. I think that at minimum, the possible high-energy involvement of these newly recognized, onion-like, molecular structures, cries out for experimental research. This is something that can be resolved in a suitable lab.
While it is possible to take any two nuclei and get them to fuse, it is easiest to get lighter nuclei to fuse, because they are less highly charged, and therefore easier to squeeze together. There are complicated quantum-mechanics rules which determine which products you will get from a given reaction, and in what amounts (“branching ratios”). The probability that two nuclei fuse is determined by the physics of the collsion, and a property called the “cross section” (see glossary) which (roughly speaking) measures the likelihood of a fusion reaction. (A simple analogy for cross-section is to consider a blindfolded person throwing a dart randomly towards a dartboard on a wall. The likelihood that the dart hits the target depends on the cross-sectional area of the target facing the dart-thrower. (Thanks to Rich Schroeppel for this analogy.))
Below is an annotated list of many fusion reactions discussed on the newsgroup. Note: D = deuterium, T = tritium, p = proton, n = neutron; these and the other elements involved are discussed in the glossary/FUT. (FUT = list of Frequently Used Terms; section 10 of the FAQ.) The numbers in parentheses are the energies of the reaction products (in Millions of electron-Volts, see glossary for details). The percentages indicate the branching ratios. More information on each of the elements is given below.
Table I: Fusion Reactions Among Various Light Elements
D+D -> T (1.01 MeV) + p (3.02 MeV) (50%)
> He3 (0.82 MeV) + n (2.45 MeV) (50%) <- most abundant fuel
> He4 + about 20 MeV of gamma rays (about 0.0001%; depends somewhat on temperature.)
(most other low-probability branches are omitted below)
D+T -> He4 (3.5 MeV) + n (14.1 MeV) <-easiest to achieve
> Be7 + n -1.6 MeV (80%) <- endothermic, not good.
D+Li6 -> 2He4 + 22.4 MeV <- also aneutronic, but you get D-D reactions too.
p+B11 -> 3 He4 + 8.7 MeV <- harder to do, but more energy than p+Li6
n+Li6 -> He4 (2.1) + T (2.7) <- this can convert n’s to T’s
n+Li7 -> He4 + T + n – some energy
From the list, you can see that some reactions release neutrons, many release helium, and different reactions release different amounts of energy (some even absorb energy, rather than releasing it). He-4 is a common product because the nucleus of He-4 is especially stable, so lots of energy is released in creating it. (A chemical analogy is the burning of gasoline, which is relatively unstable, to form water and carbon dioxide, which are more stable. The energy liberated in this combustion is what powers automobiles.) The reasons for the stability of He4 involve more physics than I want to go into here.
Some of the more important fusion reactions will be described below. These reactions are also described in Section 2 in the context of their usefulness for energy-producing fusion reactors.
*** F. Could you tell me more about these different elements?
Hydrogen (p): Ordinary hydrogen is everywhere, especially in water.
Deuterium (D): A heavy isotope of hydrogen (has a neutron in addition to the proton). Occurs naturally at 1 part in 6000; i.e. for every 6000 ordinary hydrogen atoms in water, etc., there’s one D.
Tritium (T): Tritium is another isotope of hydrogen, with two neutrons and a proton. T is unstable (radioactive), and decays into Helium-3 with a half-life of 12.3 years. (Half the T decays every 12.3 years.) Because of its short half-life, tritium is almost never found in nature (natural T is mostly a consequence of cosmic-ray bombardment). Supplies have been manufactured using fission reactors; world tritium reserves are estimated at a few kilograms, I believe. Tritium can be made by exposing deuterium or lithium to neutrons.
Helium-3 (He3): Rare light isotope of helium; two protons and a neutron. Stable. There’s roughly 13 He-3 atoms per 10 million He-4 atoms. He-3 is relatively abundant on the surface of the moon; this is believed to be due to particles streaming onto the moon from the solar wind. He3 can also be made from decaying tritium.
Helium-4 (He4): Common isotope of helium. Trace component of the atmosphere (about 1 part per million?); also found as a component of “natural gas” in gas wells.
Lithium-6 (Li6): Less common isotope of lithium. 3 protons, 3 neutrons. There are 8 Li-6 atoms for every 100 Li-7 atoms. Widely distributed in minerals and seawater. Very active chemically.
Lithium-7 (Li7): Common isotope of lithium. 3 protons, 4 neutrons. See above info on abundance.
Boron (B): Common form is B-11 (80%). B-10 20%. 5 protons, 6 neutrons. Also abundant on earth.
Note: Separating isotopes of light elements by mass is not particularly difficult.
*** G. Why is the deuterium-tritium (D-T) reaction the easiest?
Basically speaking, the extra neutrons on the D and T nuclei make them “larger” and less tightly bound, and the result is that the cross-section for the D-T reaction is the largest. Also, because they are only singly-charged hydrogen isotopes, the electrical repulsion between them is relatively small. So it is relatively easy to throw them at each other, and it is relatively easy to get them to collide and stick. Furthermore, the D-T reaction has a relatively high energy yield.
However, the D-T reaction has the disadvantage that it releases an energetic neutron. Neutrons can be difficult to handle, because they will “stick” to other nuclei, causing them to (frequently) become radioactive, or causing new reactions. Neutron-management is therefore a big problem with the D-T fuel cycle. (While there is disagreement, most fusion scientists will take the neutron problem and the D-T fuel, because it is very difficult just to get D-T reactions to go.)
Another difficulty with the D-T reaction is that the tritium is (weakly) radioactive, with a half-life of 12.3 years, so that tritium does not occur naturally. Getting the tritium for the D-T reaction is therefore another problem.
Fortunately you can kill two birds with one stone, and solve both the neutron problem and the tritium-supply problem at the same time, by using the neutron generated in the D-T fusion in a reaction like n + Li6 -> He4 + T + 4.8 MeV. This absorbs the neutron, and generates another tritium, so that you can have basically a D-Li6 fuel cycle, with the T and n as intermediates. Fusing D and T, and then using the n to split the Li6, is easier than simply trying to fuse the D and the Li6, but releases the same amount of energy. And unlike tritium, there is a lot of lithium available, particularly dissolved in ocean water.
Unfortunately you can’t get every single neutron to stick to a lithium nucleus, because some neutrons stick to other things in your reactor. You can still generate as much T as you use, by using “neutron multipliers” such as Beryllium, or by getting reactions like n + Li7 -> He4 + T + n (which propagates the neutron) to occur. The neutrons that are lost are still a problem, because they can induce radioactivity in materials that absorb them. This topic is discussed more in Section 2.