One of our 42 favourite books: “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

One of our 42 favourite books: “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

“42” has become the answer to every question since Adam’s great book of highways, whales and journalists was granted to us.

Whether you listened to Adams denials of any logic to his selection, or subscribe to the mathematical improbabilities of base 13 or the computational beauty of binary numbers, most searchers have by now found the answer they seek.

But is anybody correct?

Adams’ biography reveals that, from age 7 in '1959 until 1970, Douglas attended Brentwood School in Essex, at which time he was still more interested in the field of science than in the arts.’ This formative love of science may be the link to what even he did not know about the structure of the galaxy. It was inevitable that Adams would compose scientific fiction, as the thrill of science, learned with gusto at school, gradually leaked from his mind as his hands wandered over the keys.

And, if it had only been realized sooner, Mendeleev had given the answer to him in one of his chemistry classes. And that answer is Molybdenum, symbol Mo (no not Moe or even Lucky, as this is a Curley answer), atomic number 42. This means that it has 42 protons. The real clinch that confirms that this is the true answer is that Mo has 54 neutrons (6 times 9 as fans of Adams would know).

But why is this so obvious?

Element 43 is Tecnetium, and it does not seem to exist naturally in our galaxy, while it may only be formed by nuclear ‘magic’ and in some dense stars, ‘red giants’, far off in the universe, stars that are more light years away than the half-life of Tecnetium.

A little more of the Molybdenum magic. Molybdenum containing enzymes are about 6 times more common as catalysts used by a lot of bacteria to break the chemical bond in atmospheric molecular nitrogen (element 7), that allows biological nitrogen fixation. These enzymes are generally cyanobacterial, meaning carbon (element 6) and nitrogen are combined as CN: and while 6+7 = 13, 6 x 7 = 42.

Thus, Molybdenum, with 42 protons, has the highest number of protons and neutrons for stability (96 – note the significance), before natural instability sets in. The lowest number of protons and neutrons in Tecnetium is 98. If the answer to the question were higher than 42, we would have to leap the instability gap and that would create great uncertainty for the continuum, and chemically, it could not be lower, as there are more ‘intelligent’ elements before 42.

I just thought that you would like to know.

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