2723: Outdated Periodic Table
|Outdated Periodic Table
Title text: Researchers claim to have synthesized six additional elements in the second row, temporarily named 'pentium' through 'unnilium'.
This comic shows figure 6.14 from a science text book, which displays The periodic table of the elements, but with only the first four elements (hydrogen, helium, lithium and beryllium) shown. Randall claims, in the caption, that you can use the layout of an included periodic table to date a publication based upon the elements present or missing. In this case, his book was somehow published just half an hour after the Big Bang, at which time those four elements were the only ones present. The joke here is that he has conflated elements being absent from the periodic table because they have not yet been discovered, with them being absent because they do not yet exist.
From about 10 seconds until about 20 minutes after the Big Bang, the phase that is known as the Big Bang nucleosynthesis occurred. At that time, hydrogen ions (single protons) provided for helium in abundance and traces of lithium. Some berylium-7 was also formed, which is an unstable isotope, and with a half life of 53 days, an appreciable amount of what had been created would still be there several months after the Big Bang, and certainly most of what was created would be there half an hour after.
The conclusion is that Randall's science book was published when those four elements were the only ones in existence, and before the point where practically all the beryllium had decayed. After that point, only the three first would be present, until star formation began and started the process of Stellar nucleosynthesis.
Of course no life as we know it could exist until long after stellar nucleosynthesis had created all the other elements needed to support carbon-based life. And no life, as we could even imagine, would be able to exist for the first 370,000 years after Big Bang as atoms (in a form that could eventually form molecules) could not exist until the recombination phase of the universe, due to the high energy of cosmic background radiation. Carbon-based textbooks could not exist either.
Even now, many elements do not occur naturally on Earth and have to be synthesized to be practically studied, or deduced from what was seen during their often short lives. Others were always very hard to detect, collect enough in pure form or purify enough to properly discover them. Until these elements were discovered, one way or another, they were not included in the periodic table. Various versions of the periodic table had left spaces for these expected elements, but these gaps have now all been filled, and all recent modifications have been either additions to the end of the prior version of the table or changes of the names given to recent additions.
The Periodic Table has been under continuous revision since its invention by Dimitri Mendeleev in 1869. As printed scientific textbooks do not update themselves after being published, dating a publication by its Periodic Table is therefore possible, though in order to make the attempt one would need to know when various elements were discovered, isolated and named; when the symbols for particular elements were adopted and changed; when various elements were moved to different Groups; and when the Periods used in the tables were revised due to advances in knowledge of atomic structure. Determining the age of the work by checking which elements are present could be done, but would be less accurate.
The title text refers to how yet-undiscovered elements are given a systematic element name as a temporary name, until a more permanent name is decided upon. The names are based upon a standard group of Greek and Latin roots (depicting the decimal digits used to 'spell out' an element's unique atomic number, i.e., the number of protons) and adding an "‑ium" at the end. The claim in the title text is that, in the textbook with the figure, researchers claim they have synthesized six additional elements in the second row, temporarily named 'pentium' (atomic number "5") through to 'unnilium' ("one zero", or "10"), just as element "118" was provisionally called "ununoctium". At the time of release of this comic, element 118 is currently the last confirmed element and has been officially called oganesson. The title text of 2639: Periodic Table Changes, the previous comic to draw a periodic table, also refers to this.
Element number five is, in our time and reality, actually well known as boron. (Its 'provisional' name of Pentium was also used for a series of microprocessors launched by Intel in the 1990s.) "Unnilium", element number 10, is neon, a member of the group of noble gases, which (along with fellow group member helium) was discovered only at the very end of the 19th century. Despite helium being one of the first elements to exist, and still one of the most common in the universe (roughly 24%, by mass, with hydrogen being around 75% and every other element combined being the remainder), it did not appear in the earliest periodic tables. It was only first detected from afar, as a constituent of the Sun, about thirty years before it was finally physically discovered in an actual lab here on Earth. (This is likely because helium is both inert and light.) It is also possible that neon's provisional name in 'early science' might have been something more along the lines of "decium", all else being equal.
Since life could not have existed at the time this book should have been published, the idea of researchers synthesizing elements, or indeed the existence of books or even researchers, is of course just part of the joke.
- [Subheading]: Figure 6.14
- [Title]: The periodic table of the elements
- [The following four rectangles featuring the large element abbreviation, with the full element name written below, in a typical periodic table style]
- [Top row, far left]: H Hydrogen
- [Top row, far right, detached from any other box]: He Helium
- [Bottom row, attached directly below the "H" box]: Li Lithium
- [Bottom row, attached directly to the right of "Li"]: Be Beryllium
- [Caption below the panel]:
- You can spot an outdated science textbook by checking the bottom of the periodic table for missing elements. For example, mine was published half an hour after the Big Bang.
add a comment! ⋅ add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ refresh comments!