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This is why we're here. Unobtanium. Because this little grey rock sells for 20 million a kilo. That's the only reason. It's what pays for the whole party. It's what pays for your science.
Parker Selfridge on the mineral

Unobtanium (pronounced un-ob-tain-ee-um), also known as Ubh-310,[1] is a highly valuable rare-earth compound found on the exo-moon Pandora that is formed volcanically.

It is element 120 on the Periodic Table. Its electron configuration is [Rn] 5f146d187s2.[2]

Humans mine unobtanium for energy conduction, as the RDA suppresses the development of alternatives on Earth.[3] Additionally, excessive mineral mining in Africa exhausted the planet's natural resources.[4] By the 2140s, Earth is facing an energy crisis integral to feeding its population of 20 billion and powering its cities. Unobtanium is necessary for a wide variety of uses.

The RDA and Unobtanium[]

Miningpandora

A bucket wheel excavator unearthing unobtanium at a mine

The value and mining process of the mineral was one of the primary causes for the poor state of human and Na'vi relations, only worsening as the years progressed. The Three Laws of Eywa, some of the Na'vi's oldest and most important laws, prevent the Na'vi from mining and using ore. Additionally, some of the largest unobtainium deposits in the area fall under some of the Na'vi's most sacred sites, such as Hometree, the Tree of Voices, and the Tree of Souls. The RDA's desire to mine conflicts deeply with the Na'vi, who view the sites as sacred places that connect them to Eywa.

In the 2150s, this had led to the Destruction of the Hometree, and later, the Assault on the Tree of Souls. Before the RDA was ordered off Pandora, many of their employees wrecked their mining equipment on their way. The RDA was not able to retrieve all of their unobtanium left on Pandora because the RDA's defectors kept the shipments. These shipments were then moved into space above Pandora's atmosphere and inside a derelict spaceship.

RDA's return to Pandora[]

Meg

Meg Elkins blows up the unobtanium refinery

Although unobtanium was once the most sought out resource by the RDA on Pandora, Earth became inhospitable in the 14 year time period they left. This caused humans to return to Pandora for a full blown re-colonization. The number one resource farming shifted to amrita as well, a yellow liquid that can stop human aging

Despite this, unobtanium was still highly valuable to the RDA, and there was still 3.2 trillion dollars worth of it that had been left behind on Pandora. In an attempt for the Na'vi to gain leverage over the RDA, Jake Sully and his team threatened to blow up the shipments in space alongside the RDA's factories on Pandora. The team blew up the refinery which turned the RDA hostile. However, before they could detonate the rest, their plan was sabotaged and the RDA were able to reclaim their remaining structures and the unobtanium shipments.

During the RDA's return to Pandora, they sought unobtanium again.[5] Unobtanium mining operations for further deposits of the mineral resumed, though mines would come under attack by rebel Na'vi during various raids led by Jake Sully and The Resistance.

Description[]

It is a room-temperature superconductor for energy, which makes it very valuable; worth $20 million per kilogram (2.2 lbs) unrefined and $40 million per kilogram refined on Earth. However, as the Pandoran atmosphere is toxic to humans, it is expensive to mine. For mining operations, all human personnel are required to wear an exopack in order to breathe while working. Humans transport unobtanium on trucks called Hell Trucks from the mining sites back to Hell's Gate for refining and eventual transport to Earth on the Valkyrie shuttle and ISV.

Tectonium pic

Unobtanium can float due to its magnetic properties

Unobtanium proved to be the most baffling of scientific discoveries in the area of superconductors as it had an extremely strong magnetic field, reversing prior knowledge that all superconductors repel magnetic fields. Furthermore, unlike the fragile crystals of human-created superconducting compounds, the substance found on Pandora was a stable quasi-crystal with its atoms arranged in a never-repeating but orderly pattern with five-fold symmetry. This matrix was not only structurally rugged but also housed microscopic voids in the quasicrystalline structure that contain the magnetic flux lines. Pandoran unobtanium beats all current Earth superconductors in terms of efficiency and stability by more than a thousand times over. It remained superconducting up until its melting point (1,516° C, 2,761° F) and even when surrounded by a magnetic field of one billion gausses (100,000 teslas).[6] It is even possible to contain a powerful magnetic field within unobtanium, opening the door to even more applications and research.[7]

A sustainable, artificial alternative to unobtanium has not yet been synthesized on Earth, thanks in part to the RDA's suppression of such practices. It has been suspected that the RDA funds terrorist organizations and mobs through the black market to shut down these operations.[8]

Filmstill370

3D Version: red/cyancross-eyedThe Hallelujah Mountains, a rich area of unobtanium allowing the mountains to levitate

When the powerful magnetic forces of Pandora and Polyphemus overlap, they create fields of "fluxcons" (flux concentrations) such as the Flux Vortex. This powerful magnetism interacts with areas of high unobtanium concentration, resulting in unobtanium-rich formations being ripped from the ground and into the air by the magnetic influences, sometimes thousands of feet. A countering form of magnetism, known as flux pinning or quantum locking, then holds the masses in stasis and prevents them from being literally pulled into space. This phenomenon creates incredible formations like the Hallelujah Mountains and Stone Arches,[9] which human pilots use as a reference for avoiding or adapting to areas of intense magnetism.

Originally, the term, "unobtanium" was slang used in the aerospace industry, to describe hard-to-access materials with mythical properties. However, over the years the name appears to have stuck.[10]

Origin[]

Researchers theorize that billions of years ago, when the planets and satellites of the Alpha Centauri System were condensing from the primordial stellar nebula, a Mars-sized stellar body may have crashed into the still-molten Pandora. The moon's nickel-iron core was disrupted. The high temperatures and pressures produced far exceeded anything wrought by human technology. These forces interacted with Polyphemus' intense magnetic field and created conditions suitable for the formation of unobtanium.

Discovery by Humans[]

Parker in his office

Parker Selfridge with some unobtanium

Superconductivity was discovered in 1911 by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, who was studying the resistance of solid mercury at temperatures close to absolute zero; it proved to be useless because of the logistics of cooling large amounts of material down that far. Further efforts proved futile, and frustrated researchers finally termed their goal "unobtainium." (The spelling was later changed to "unobtanium" to conform to the chemical element naming, even though unobtanium is a compound, not an element.)[11] There matters stood until the first unmanned exploration vehicle reached Alpha Centauri System and discovered deposits of a room temperature superconducting substance on an Earth-like moon named Pandora—unobtanium had been obtained at last.

Uses[]

Interstellarcomplete

The ISV Venture Star uses unobtanium to travel light-years to Pandora and back

Unobtanium has no use to the Na'vi, as their laws forbid them from mining Pandora for metals. To humans, however, unobtanium has become the backbone of Earth's economy. As a powerful energy conductor, unobtanium has countless specialized uses. Notably, it is vital to Superluminal Communications and the manufacturing of computer hyperchips. It is also essential for running the RDA's global high-speed maglev train system on Earth.[12] Perhaps most importantly, unobtanium facilitates the containment and direction of energy in the matter-antimatter annihilation system which propels ships like the ISV Venture Star, enabling them to travel at incredibly fast speeds and reach the Alpha Centauri system in as little as ~6 years.

Thusly, without unobtanium, interstellar commerce on a massive scale would not be possible. Unobtanium is not only the key to Earth’s energy needs in the 22nd century but the enabler of interstellar travel and the establishment of a truly spacefaring civilization. This creates a feedback loop: The more unobtanium is mined, the more ships can be built and the more equipment can be sent to Pandora for further mining.

Mining Operations[]

Note: The following information is sourced from James Cameron's Avatar: The Game, which is no longer canon.

Because of the intense magnetic fields associated with unobtanium deposits, mining operations are severely restricted as to the composition of mining tools and machinery. Tools cannot contain any ferromagnetic elements (cobalt, iron, nickel and some rare earths like gadolinium) because they would become so strongly magnetized that their moving parts would become immobile. The tools themselves would be drawn to the unobtanium deposits, where they would be permanently embedded. Non-ferromagnetic elements such as chromium and manganese become magnetic when combined with other elements, further limiting the use of steel alloys and other common materials. As a result, exotic and costly compounds (beryllium copper, tungsten carbide, etc) must be employed.

The troubles do not end there. Whenever a conducting substance is moved in a magnetic field, an electric current is generated. This current can raise the temperature to damaging levels, interfere with the operation of electrical circuits, and interact with the magnetic field to produce mechanical forces. For example, a miner swinging a pick with a beryllium copper (a non-magnetic but electrically conducting metal alloy) head would feel as though he was moving the pick through molasses. The faster the pick moved, the more resistance it would encounter. Even if the pick could be swung quickly, induced eddy currents would heat it until it was too hot to hold.

Humans can not go anywhere near an unobtanium deposit. The magnetic fields nearby are so intense that even the slightest movement of a human body induces electrical currents that completely disrupt the functioning of the brain, nerves and muscles. Even 1000 feet away from the edge of an deposit, people feel strange tactile sensations and distortions in their vision and hearing if they run or try to throw things. They may also have disturbing thoughts or compulsions, irregular heartbeats, limb paralysis, muscle tremors, or vertigo and nausea. As a result, mining operations are conducted by remote control, using optical signals carried by armored fiber optic cables. Mining machinery utilize ceramic cutters and fiber-reinforced plastic structural components. When metal parts must be used, they are made of thin laminations separated by insulating layers to reduce deleterious effects to manageable levels. Power comes from turbines driven by hot gases produced from chemical reactions, similar to a solid fuel rocket motor.

When unobtanium ore is pulled from the excavation, the process is hampered by the attraction between its entrained magnetic field and that of the remaining ore body. The excavated ore must be heated to its melting point (1516 degrees C) which then releases the trapped magnetic field. The energy stored in this field is captured as the field collapses, and fed back into the electric furnace that heats the removed ore, reducing the amount of external power required.

Refinery Process[]

Extracting unobtanium from mined ore is performed on Pandora at ESM 01's on-site refinery. It is undesirable to ship any inert matter such as ore impurities back to Earth; the refined quasimetal is made into plates small enough to be handled by a single human working in Pandora’s lower gravity and ready for immediate further processing back on Earth. Most is rolled into levitating foil, for RDA MagLev transport systems, or extruded into superconducting wires for the global grid.

Unobtanium's unique properties are largely dependent on the inner structure of the material, which must be preserved through the refining process. Initial purification is done in large ball mills, followed by successive nitric and hydrofluoric acid rinses. Acidic effluent is discharged into the stream to help control growth of life forms near the mine workings. Unobtanium flakes and ingots are then floated onto an inverted conveyor belt and fed through a multiphase roller mill equipped with non-magnetic neolon rollers; the rate of compression is carefully controlled to prevent heat build-up disrupting the anamagnetic properties of the quasimetal. The two-centimeter thick ribbon of unobtanium is cut to size with laser shears, then graded and packed for shipping.

The end product of the refining process is unobtanium sheets one meter by five hundred centimeters, two centimeters thick. These are aligned with contra-facing polarities for ease of handling, then packed in crates made from Pandoran native wood. The crates are designed for easy disassembly on Earth, where artisan furniture factories are willing to pay remarkable prices for the only extraterrestrial woods so far discovered.[13]

Etymology[]

The name "unobtanium" is a reference to an old engineering term that has existed since the 1950s. It can be applied to any rare or hard to find material that has the properties needed to fulfill a given design, but is unobtainable.[14] This joke became a trope in science fiction: any material that is extremely useful (often crucial for all fictional technology), hard to find and is thus practically unobtainable is collectively described as unobtanium.

In Project 880, the original script of Avatar, it is mentioned that "unobtanium" is a joke name that has stuck with the RDA over the years.

Trivia[]

  • It is important to note that unobtanium is not proven to be the actual formal name of the mineral, as the original script to Avatar claims unobtanium is merely a joke name that has stuck with the RDA over the years. They amusingly named it as such due to its unlikely properties.[15]
    • Avatar: The Game calls it Ubh-310 implies its real name could be unbihexium, a theoretical element yet to be discovered on the periodic table.
  • Unobtanium is often used as evidence by those who do not like the first Avatar film of it being poorly written. However, it can also be argued its name adds to Avatar being intended to be partially a satirical and comedy film, instead of one that attempts to be extremely serious all the time. Other examples of goofy humor in the film include Grace telling Jake to not play with his queue or he will go blind, Jake and Neytiri shouting "HELL YEAH!" together, and Grace saying "oh shit" upon hearing Jake and Neytiri mated.
  • Unobtainium poster

    Poster in Frontiers of Pandora

    There is a major debate among some viewers that unobtanium was the key to saving Earth and that humans need the mineral in order to survive, but this has not been proven. This debate has led to some people justifying the RDA's actions against the Na'vi throughout Avatar, feeling the Na'vi are selfish for not leaving their Hometree for humanity's survival.
    • Some have stated that unobtanium does not solve the root of the problem, which is the RDA's destructive practices, and their suppression of unobtanium alternatives.
    • In Avatar, when Parker Selfridge is describing unobtanium's role, he mentions, 'This little gray rock sells for twenty million a kilo." He does not mention humanity needs unobtanium to save Earth.
    • Unobtanium was not only under the Omatikaya Hometree. The RDA already had an Unobtanium Mine which was never said to be running dry. Selfridge mentioned the Hometree was the richest deposit, not the only deposit.
    • In Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, there is a poster claiming "unobtainium" (which is a writing error) is needed for "clean" and "sustainable" power generation. It is unclear if this is true or merely propaganda meant to make it seem like the RDA needed it. Datamining the filenames for the poster calls it propaganda.
    • In the opening video of Avatar: Pandora Rising, it is claimed it is the key to humans saving their own Earth from collapse. However, the game is no longer canon. Additionally, Alison Boyd stated on a promotional website for the first Avatar film that it was crucial to Earth's survival, but it is unknown if this is still canon. She was also promoting the RDA, and making it seem like humanity needs unobtanium to survive could be considered propaganda.
  • Sol's Delight

    The plant Sol's Delight points in the direction of unobtanium

    The plant Sol's Delight is magnetropic and orients itself towards magnetic fields. Miners were able to use this trait to locate unobtanium deposits. Another plant, the Anemonid, has evolved to use unobtanium in soil. Mine Pods are said to contain small traces of unobtanium.
  • The use of unobtanium and why it is so valuable to humanity is never fully explained within the film. When studio executives asked James Cameron about it, he said he did not want to, saying, "It's whatever gets people up out of their cities to get on ships to go someplace and take stuff from other people that doesn't belong to them, and it's been the story of human history forever."[16]
  • The mineral shown as "unobtanium" in reality is called galena and is the chief ore of the actual element lead. It is a very dense rock made of lead sulfide.[17]
  • In the Activist Survival Guide, unobtanium is listed incorrectly as element 120 in an image spread, even though it was stated that unobtanium is a compound, not an element, just two pages prior.[18] The actual element 120, given the temporary name Unbinilium (1-2-0 in Latin), has not yet been synthesized and might have chemical properties similar to other known terrous-alkaline metals.
  • In the Pandorapedia in James Cameron's Avatar: The Game, the price is erroneously listed as 20 billion dollars rather than 20 million.
  • A similar material or compound appeared in the Terminator franchise, also by James Cameron. Simply referenced as the "room-temperature superconductor", it caused a nuclear holocaust after it was used to create the first sentient computer, Skynet.

See also[]

References[]

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