“Colour” by Peggy Mintun (www.deviantart.org)
As previously mentioned samples of the meteorite that fell to Earth on the Nahum Gardner farm were collected and analyzed by professors from Miskatonic University. The sample of the meteorite was determined to generate its own heat and luminosity, to be magnetic but does not contain iron, cobalt or nickel, does not volatilize at temperatures in excess of 3,000 °F, and is slowly shrinking. This article continues to review the chemical assessment conducted on the meteorite sample at Miskatonic University.
The next series of tests with the meteorite sample was with various reagents. In chemistry a reagent is a substance that is used to test the presence of another substance through an observable or recorded chemical reaction. Thus a reagent can be practically any substance or compound. Water and hydrochloric acid were added to the sample with no effect. Nitric acid and aqua regia, which is a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid that has the capacity to dissolve precious metals such as gold and platinum (The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft edited, forward and notes by Leslie S. Klinger, 2014), generated a slight hiss or spatter but with no other effect. A variety of other reagents were applied to the sample including ammonia, caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), alcohol and ether, and carbon disulphide (a frequently used industrial, non-polar solvent that has an “ether-like” odor) with no reaction. It should be noted that in the story HPL called carbon disulphide “nauseous,” which was probably not the compound itself but more than likely due to added commercial impurities such as carbonyl sulfide.
University chemistry laboratory from the 1890’s (www.ursinus.edu)
When the meteorite sample was completely immersed in an acidic solvent, faint Widmanstätten figures could be seen etched in the material. Widmanstätten figures or patterns of fine, interleaving bands or ribbons called lamellae, found in iron-based meteorites. These patterns appear when an iron-based meteorite is polished and then etched with nitric acid (The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft, edited, introduction and notes by S.T. Joshi, 1999).
Widmanstätten patterns in a cross-section of a meteorite (www.wikipedia.org)
Again, the meteorite sample was described as oddly soft, almost plastic and when placed in a glass beaker the specimen “faded away” along with the beaker. The strange stone was said to have a strong “affinity” for silicon. The concept of chemical “affinity” is very old and has pre-scientific origins. It was used to describe the “force” that causes chemical reactions such as the combination of two substances to create a new one. In the 18th century affinity tables were created, which were used as a teaching tool or guide on how various substances combine with one another.
An Affinity Table from 1718 (www.wikipedia.org)
In modern physics and chemistry chemical affinity refers to the property of an atom or compound to combine with another atom or compound of unlike composition. More specifically, this modern concept of chemical affinity is directly linked to our modern theory of the atom. Thus, affinity is frequently described as electron affinity, which states that when an electron is added to a neutrally charge atoms, creating a negative ion, there is a change in energy.
An example of affinity in my line of work can be found in the waters overlying the sediments in a lake. When the bottom waters are oxygenated iron in the sediments has a strong affinity for phosphorus, essentially locking it in the mud and making it unavailable for algae to use of a nutrient. However, when the bottom waters of a lake are depleted of dissolved oxygen this strong affinity for phosphorus is eliminated and the phosphorus – iron bond is broken, releasing the phosphorus into the overlaying waters. In turn, this dissolved phosphorus is readily available for algae to use. The availability of phosphorus from the sediments is called internal loading and can be the cause of summer algae blooms in many lakes or ponds.
Getting back to the sample of meteorite, it had a strong affinity for silicon. This affinity resulted in an exothermic reaction and the disappearance of both the silicon (glass beaker) and the sample is particularly perplexing since silicon has melting and boiling points of 1,414 °C and 3,265 °C, respectively. Thus, if the meteorite sample reacted with the glass beaker in an exothermic reaction leaving a charred spot on a wooden shelf, it would have generated temperatures of up to 3,265 °C (5,909 °F). Why didn’t the wooden shelf catch fire? Also, why would it have such a strong affinity for silicon but not for other substances? It is possible that the meteorite was reacting to Earth’s atmosphere, which would explain why it was consistently warm and slowly shrinking. In this case, the meteorite had an “affinity” for Earth’s atmosphere or at least a component of Earth’s atmosphere.
Willamette Meteorite (www.marmet-meteorites.com)
Next time we will talk about the physics and chemistry of the “Colour” itself. Thank you – Fred.