Articles From the November 1997 Unification News


The Neutrino and the Blessing Ring

This article was written to celebrate the Blessing held in Korea, August 1992. It is being reprinted to honor the upcoming Blessing of 39.6 million at RFK Stadium.

I wanted to write about the Blessing but with a science angle. But I was stumped as to just what to write about.

Then, just the other day, by chance or design I cannot say, I was discoursing with an encyclopedic academic about this weird and exotic subatomic particle called the neutrino. I had just finished telling him that, while the sun was pouring trillions of them down into his body at that very moment, he need not worry about it as they were so indifferent to him that they would all pass on through and, as the earth itself was as nothing to them-a trillion miles of lead would not faze them-they would pour on out the other side unchecked. Same thing happens at night, of course, except this time they pour in at the feet and out of the head.

At that point I would have recited the poem "Cosmic Gall" by John Updike if I had been able to remember it:

Neutrinos they are very small
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them through which they simply pass...
At night they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed-you call / It wonderful; I call it crass.

My erudite friend thought about this curiosity, for a moment. Then, being well versed in the Principle, and knowing that God created all things with a purpose, he quite naturally asked, "What’s the purpose of the neutrino?"

I paused for a Buddha-moment of Illumination as I realized he had revealed the topic of my article for me. "The purpose of the neutrino," I pronounced, "is the Blessing Ring."

More correctly, if less intriguingly, at least one purpose of the neutrino is the creation of all the elements heavier than iron, including the much sought-after gold.

The Big Bang

You see, when God created the Universe, He didn’t make everything at once. In fact, just a few seconds after the moment of creation-what scientists with understatement call The Big Bang-all the matter in the universe was in the form of electrons, protons and neutrons. While the protons were stable and could wait around until things cooled down a bit to form hydrogen atoms with the electrons, the neutrons would fall apart into protons if left to themselves for longer than about eleven minutes.

In the ensuing few minutes, however, some of the neutrons hooked up with protons, forming helium nuclei, and escaped this fate.

So, the calculations of nuclear physicists tell us, when our universe was about an hour old, the matter it contained was about 80% free protons and the rest was helium nuclei.

Then, about a million years later, the universe had cooled enough and the separation period ended; the electrons embraced them and hydrogen and helium atoms formed. This was the first regular matter to appear and the universe still has, basically, the same composition today as it did back then-everything else is still just a minor constituent.

While this was a Good Beginning-it could hardly be otherwise-there was much to be done if the Plan was to progress, as it is difficult to build anything interesting-let alone the sons and daughters of God-out of just hydrogen and helium. Helium, in fact, is the "neutrino" of the atomic world-it is so indifferent to interaction that no one on earth even noticed it until its signature, so to speak, was noticed in the light coming from the sun. It took a little while longer to realize that almost a quarter of the universe is made of the stuff.

Hydrogen has a little more passion for give-and-take but, left to itself, about the most it can do is pair off into hydrogen molecules. Clearly, the work of creation had only just started.

The sun

Next step in the Plan was for the matter in the Universe, which at this point was pretty much a diffuse gas, to start clumping together under the influence of gravity. Just how this clumping occurred is currently a "hot topic" in the science world but, somehow, it happened.

Now you might have noticed when you were a kid that when you pump up a bicycle tire, the pump gets hot-compressing a gas heats it up. On a slightly larger scale, when trillions of tons of gas gravitationally fall together they also heat up. As things progress, the gas gets very hot and, when the temperature gets high enough, a miracle occurs: a star is born. No, not the Judy Garland kind! That came much, much later.

This ignition occurs because the combination of a proton and a neutron has a little less energy than two free protons, so when two protons get close enough to each other they have a tendency, though small, to shake off that extra energy so that one of the protons transforms into a neutron and the two unite together, creating a heavy-hydrogen nucleus, a little bit of free energy, and a neutrino.

The energy that is shaken off in this union is called the "packing fraction" to remind us that, as you pack protons and neutrons together into more complex nuclei, a fraction of their mass is given off as energy.

What happens to the gas falling into the proto-star is that, at a temperature of a few thousands of degrees, the heat breaks up the atoms of hydrogen back into free electrons and protons. The proton-proton interaction, however, needs tens-of-millions since positive charges repel each other. It is only when protons are moving at very high speed (which is what we call hot) that they can overcome this repulsion and get close enough together to have at least a chance to pair up.

It is exactly this process that fuels the sun today-that energy we soak up when sunbathing (or used to before its dark side was revealed) was shaken off by such a fusion of protons. It’s just as well that the tendency to fuse is slight, for if it were not, all the protons in the sun would pair off quickly and all the energy that the sun was planning to dribble out over the next five billion years or so would be released all at once-a hydrogen bomb to dwarf all man-made hydrogen bombs (which use the energy of an atomic bomb to overcome the reluctance of the hydrogen to fuse).

Just as hydrogen burns to form heavy-hydrogen, so heavy-hydrogen fuses to form helium-overall, our sun is burning its hydrogen to helium.

Big deal, you might say; there’s plenty of helium in the universe already!

The light elements

This is where God gets really clever. You see, gravity, as anyone falling off a bed will tell you, is inexorable: it will keep on pulling you down unless something stops it. While the gas that originally fell together to form the sun would like to continue falling in to the center, the massive release of fusion energy at the center of the sun heats things up so much that its outward pressure prevents it. The sun is stable: the massive inwards pull of gravity is exactly matched by the equally massive outwards pressure of the high temperature at the center.

This phase is expected to last, as mentioned, about five billion more years. One of these distant days, however, our sun will run out of hydrogen. All the fuel in the center will be gone and the fire will go out. Gravity will seize its chance to continue what it was doing ten billion years ago, and the sun will recommence collapsing. This will increase the pressure and temperatures will rise and rise until they reach the hundreds of millions and helium burning will start.

I’ll spare you the fascinating details but, in essence, helium nuclei, along with the occasional free proton or neutron, fuse together to create all the crucial elements that are needed for the construction of life: carbon, oxygen, calcium, etc., etc. All these light elements have positive packing fractions, so the helium burning releases energy. This release of energy halts the gravitational collapse, and the star reaches a new equilibrium.

This new equilibrium, however, is quite different from the old. The star becomes hugely bloated-our sun will engulf the earth-and massive amounts of material are ejected from the surface of the star into the interstellar space. Some of these Red Giants, as they are called, are called carbon stars precisely because they are pumping trillions of tons of carbon a day into outer space. All stars in their old age pump the heavier elements-carbon, oxygen, calcium, chlorine, etc., etc.-into outer space; they are the factories in which all the elements that living things are built out of are created.

Now, when new stars form out of the interstellar gas, there are small amounts of these materials present. In the process of the formation of our sun, some of the infalling gas didn’t make it all the way into the center and remained in orbit . When the sun ignited, it blew off most of the light hydrogen and helium leaving behind the heavier stuff in orbit, an aggregation we call the earth. On this, the Plan-at least its physical aspect-was completed and life and the Children of God developed.

We, and the world about us are, literally, made of star stuff!

Heavy elements

This scenario, however, does not account for the gold and the Blessing Rings. You see, while the packing fraction of the lighter elements is positive-energy is given off when they are formed out of lighter elements-the packing fraction for all the elements heavier than iron is negative-energy has to be put into their creation. And gold is a lot heavier than iron.

We have gravity to thank, as it turns out. For our sun, the phase of helium burning will continue until that, too, runs out and the core of the sun becomes mostly iron surrounded by onion rings of the lighter elements that never got hot enough to fuse. The fire will go out and gravity will seek a new, and final, equilibrium.

The pressure that halts this final collapse is the reluctance of electrons to be too close to each other: the gravitational pressure is resisted by this electron pressure, and the shrunken sun, still immensely hot, will enter into a long senescence as a white dwarf until, as it slowly cools-the carbon layer, incidentally, turning into a huge diamond which will be useful for engagement rings if we ever figure out how to get at it-to the chill of outer space, it will enter eternity as a black dwarf.

There is a limit to what the electron pressure can take, however. For stars somewhat bigger than our sun at the time of their final collapse, the crushing inward pull of gravity overcomes this electron pressure.

The electrons have nowhere to go but into the protons, giving out, in the process, a neutrino (we’re close to the gold now). All the matter at the center of the star converts into neutrons in a very short period of time, creating a never-yet-seen form of matter called neutronium and the core of the star transforms into a neutron star.

This sudden loss of the electron pressure causes the whole star to collapse rapidly inwards, releasing a vast amount of energy in the process which appears in the neutrinos. In regular matter, such neutrinos would escape carrying all their energy away, such as in the neutrinos created by the fusion in the sun which sail away perchance to pierce a lover and his lass. But neutronium, and the other exotic forms of matter created in the rapid collapse of the star, is not regular matter at all-it weighs in at a trillion tons a spoonful-and even neutrinos cannot pass through it with ease.

Much of the burst of neutrinos from the collapsing core is absorbed by these outer layers and dumps there a vast amount of energy. This causes these layers to blow asunder-the star explodes as a supernova and, for a while, it will outshine the whole galaxy of a million, billion suns. Some of the neutrinos do escape and six of them were detected when a star went supernova in 1987-six might not seem a lot but, for neutrinos and their reluctance to stop in the detector, it marked a massive flux of them passing through the earth from the dying star, even though it was trillions of miles away from us.

In the apocalypse of a supernova there is energy and more to spare-and iron, along with the other light elements, are slammed together with enough extra energy to create all the elements heavier than iron-including gold-which are then scattered throughout the heavens by the force of the explosion.

Gathered up with the lighter elements in the accretion of the planet earth, some of this gold, forged in the death throe of some ancient star, was lucky enough to end up on the finger of a child of God getting married.

So there you have it; neutrinos have their place in the Plan-for without neutrinos there would be no gold and Blessing Rings of iron would not be quite the same.

Congratulations all!

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