I'd encourage you to take about 4 min to read the whole post.

Multiple masses of parabanic acid appear at random around the world (but see Context and constraints), displacing any matter in their way as they materialise.

Typical parabanic acid will irritate the eyes and skin. The same goes for the new anomalies, but each molecule will also, if allowed to vibrate or rotate with energy corresponding to a temperature of ≥500 K for too long*, explode with as much energy as a literal solar flare†.

Two anomalous masses are exploded by accident far from civilisation in spectacular and confusing fashion, but people soon realise what's going on. The challenge they face is...


How do we prevent 'ignition' indefinitely (at most 0.0000001% risk over a century) by contemporary or older means? Assume malicious actors exist.

Context and constraints

  1. Targets: nine remaining anomalous masses, ranging in size from exactly two molecules to half an eyelash, none humanly detectable. You may assume these have a total of $2.9\times10^{-31}$ times the mass of the overall volume of stuff they're hiding in, and aren't in already over-hot locations.
    • Edit: We cannot distinguish anomalous from ordinary parabanic acid except by 'ignition', a method that breaks not only the laws of physics but entire nations.
    • If any bond is broken in an anomalous molecule, the explosion-glitch ceases.
    • The largest anomalous mass is expected to form a kugelblitz if it explodes.
  2. Resources: modern, plus the following relevant modifications.
    • AI for media creation, engineering, organisational management - above human level
    • Microbots below nanotech level
    • Universal communications - radio or better available
    • ~$2.5\times10^{9}$ km2 of explored land and water, even more unexplored
  3. Forbidden
    • Irreversible large-scale mind or body modification, including of humans
    • Solutions involving outer space, or astronomical objects other than the planet
  4. Avoid
    • Unrelated catastrophes!
  5. Requirements
    • Exactly one cheap chemical process where the anomalies react completely XOR exactly one easy exploit based on the background given
    • Adequate global economic stability
    • Sticking to the existing means of this version of humanity
    • Obeying physics, apart from the violation given


*Say 1 ns is too long.

†(i) Assume infrared. (ii) Yes, explosion is impossible with real parabanic acid! (iii) The reasons for the super-antimatter energy of explosion are irrelevant.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Leaving an anomalous mass in a candle flame for 1 ns is 'too long'. ...explode with as much energy as a literal solar flare* Too late... they've all exploded. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Oct 25 '19 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch how about this (09:27 UTC)? $\endgroup$ – lightlyheld Oct 25 '19 at 9:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If “obeying physics” is a requirement, then your situation cannot arise. Physics does not actually allow for any substance that matches the properties of your modified parabanic acid, let alone for it to spontaneously materialise. You need to allow for anomalous physics if you want this setup to exist. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Oct 25 '19 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ without doing the maths im just going to guess that if each molecule of this stuff is that energy dense you have a black hole $\endgroup$ – jk. Oct 25 '19 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/… Parabanic acid is not itself an explosive. It does contain oxygen, but if electrons in the orbitals of the oxygen atoms are “ much smaller than normal” then physics as we know it is changed or magic is involved. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Oct 25 '19 at 13:48

each molecule will also explode [..] if exposed to a temperature of 500 K for too long.

The only places on Earth where temperature exceeds 500 K are either lava flows from a volcanic eruption, wildfires or furnaces.

nine anomalous masses, ranging in size from exactly two molecules to half an eyelash

Statistically speaking, scattering at random 9 sample on Earth, 6 will end up in water, 3 on land. Of those 5 the chances that 1 ends up in a furnace is risible (and if it ends up in a lava flow or a wildfire there are more serious concerns already ongoing).

In total, statistics tells you that they will slowly diffuse and evaporate before they have a chance to be exposed to 500 K. And while it is in the environment it will be degraded into its components, as it is the entropic destiny of any complex molecule.

The size and amount you specified make the proverbial search for a hay colored needle in a haystack looks like something a toddler in kindergarten can do. Just to give you a number, in the volume of a shot of whisky there are about $10^{23}$ molecules of water. Just finding 2 molecules of your chemical into them would have a probability of $2\over 10^{23}$, which is practically 0. Now count how may shots of whisky you need to empty the ocean....

We struggle to find part of a crashed plane on the ocean, and they are way bigger than an eyelash!

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you explain how all of it would lose its chemical structure over time without experiencing adverse conditions? Might a sample embedded in rock stay as-is, or get embedded in rock and lurk there indefinitely? I do acknowledge that, still, almost no one might be in the right spot to overheat it. More importantly, say news gets out quickly enough that a competent individual with omnicidal or mass-homicidal inclinations gets nasty ideas. Do you have a probability range for the unlikely case where they are difficult to identify and incapacitate? $\endgroup$ – lightlyheld Oct 25 '19 at 10:29
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    $\begingroup$ Bzzt. Wildfires can exceed the threshold temperature, and can be pretty substantial in scale and relatively frequent in occurrence. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Oct 25 '19 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime, corrected. But as for lava flow, who cares of an explosion in a wildfire? It's already destroying the place $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Oct 25 '19 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch because the OP suggested that the explosion would have the same energy as a solar flare. That's a bit of a step up from even quite a large wildfire. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Oct 25 '19 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime, there is no way 2 molecules or an eyelash of matter can generate as much energy as a solar flare. That is even more than relativistic $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Oct 25 '19 at 19:44

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