On July 16, 1945, the United States carried out the world’s first nuclear bomb test, an event named Trinity. The test took place a few hundred miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico, which is home to the iconic Los Alamos National Laboratory. That same lab published a new study on an extremely rare type of crystal called a quasi-crystal – a crystal that was, in this case, formed by the extreme environment caused by the nuclear explosion.
Quasi-crystals are so called because, unlike commonly found crystals which have a repeating pattern of atoms, these “exotic” crystals do not follow the periodic order. On the contrary, the quasi-crystal created by the nuclear explosion exhibits five-fold rotational symmetry, which is not something that a natural crystal could form.
Due to the extreme environments that produce these quasi-crystals, they are very rare to find on Earth – and the one recently discovered at the Trinity site, which was found in the glass-like trinitite caused by the explosion, is the most known ancient human. made a sample. At this point, it is not clear why the quasicrystals form the way they do, but the discovery of the crystal will help uncover this mystery.
According to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, this quasi-crystal created by the explosion was formed from a mixture of sand, the test tower where the explosion took place, and copper transmission lines to proximity. The resulting object lacks the beauty of a typical natural crystal, rather resembling something like a diseased piece of meat.
Quasi-crystals like this can help shed light on ongoing nuclear testing programs in some countries, according to the national lab. Unlike debris and radioactive gases, which decay, these crystals are permanent and may be able to provide clues to the tests that are taking place.
Image by Luca Bindi and Paul J. Steinhardt via Nature