The Mars Curiosity Mission, which may be the swan song of the vastly productive US space program, famously is powered by plutonium-238, which was, by the way, the exact isotope that Glenn Seaborg first made when he discovered plutonium in 1941.
The United States has launched 100 kg quantities of this isotope into space to power RTG, on the Apollo missions to the moon - one of these RTG's crashed into the planet on the failed Apollo 13 mission, wiping out life on earth (just kidding, life on earth ended after Three Mile Island, no wait, Chernobyl, no wait, Fukushima...) - the Pioneer Missions, the Voyager missions, the Galileo mission, the Cassini mission and several others...
The planet is fresh out of plutonium-238.
It is also running out of space in its favorite waste dump, the planetary atmosphere, to dump dangerous fossil fuel waste, in particular carbon dioxide, and probably, as a result, may run out of food (maybe within the coming decade) for a prominent dominant species on the planet, precisely the one that used to make plutonium-238 to view distant planets.
Food crops for the prominent dominant Earth bound species failed within the last decade, on every continent where food is grown, most recently in North America.
A coincidence I'm sure...maybe...
I hope that Apollo 13 plutonium doesn't kill everyone on earth.
Anyway, not feeling very comfortable about the role of scientists in the party of Glenn Seaborg or the other party, those nut guys, concerned (silly me) that the atmosphere may be collapsing in more dramatic ways than even I conceived, and also feeling bad about some personal issues, I decided to distract myself by checking out the instrument package on the Curiosity mission.
Here's the webpage for one of instruments in the instrument package on the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity: Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer
Here's what it says about the instrument:
The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer will measure the abundance of chemical elements in rocks and soils. Funded by the Canadian Space Agency, the APXS will be placed in contact with rock and soil samples on Mars and will expose the material to alpha particles and X-rays emitted during the radioactive decay of the element curium. X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation, like light and microwaves.
Alpha particles are helium nuclei, consisting of 2 protons and 2 neutrons. When X-rays and alpha particles interact with atoms in the surface material, they knock electrons out of their orbits, producing an energy release by emitting X-rays that can be measured with detectors. The X-ray energies enable scientists to identify all important rock-forming elements, from sodium to heavier elements.
So two of Dr. Seaborg's ten new elements are now on Mars.
Interestingly, this spectrometer works by using Auger electrons, which were studied by another great woman nuclear chemist, Lise Meitner.
(I wrote about Dr. Meitner here: The Deformed Nucleus: Neptunium and the Rain)
Bittersweet, I guess.
Ignorance...never mind...it doesn't matter anyway.
Have a great weekend.
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