Are "What's this mystery substance?" questions considered off-topic?

On another forum I was reading an account of something somebody had produced in a home experiment, and the physical and chemical properties of the substance he described seemed rather bizarre, especially considering the raw materials he claimed to have made it from. Assuming he didn't just make the whole account up (and the account is very detailed and circumstantial, and several other members have managed to replicate part of his results though not all of them), I'm curious to know what are the possibilities for what the stuff could be.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure something like that would get closed. We're talking science here, not bizarre. If you'd have some common but unlabelled reagent, then still quite a bit of care would be needed. Some weird hearsay on internet? Waste of time. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Nov 30, 2021 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ More as a matter of curiosity than anything else, since I don't expect they would, if one of the people who made the substance asked the question themselves, would that be different? Actually, possibly would, since then they could at least answer requests for more information. $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Dec 1, 2021 at 6:12

2 Answers 2


There are many good questions about the identification of unknown substances, and a valuable addition to the Q&A database is a good deed as long as it is in agreement with Help Center — Asking section.

I'd like to stress out several points that I think need to be considered in this case:

  • Collect enough information and formulate the question in such a way that it is directly answerable and isn't opinion-based, too broad or exists for the sole purpose of discussion.
  • Provide as many relevant details and reputable citations as possible.
  • Make sure the question doesn't fall into the realm of the alternative science.
  • Omit buzzwords, clickbaits and other magical/mystery/subjective nonsence. For example, "What's this mystery substance?" would be a bad title.
  • Be considerable and humble when sharing the info regarding authorship. Give credit when credit is due. But if you think the discussion on a controversial topic might lead to deanonymization and hurt one's reputation, probably leave the OP's username and link to that controversial post aside.
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. Hmm, the question certainly doesn't come under the heading of "promoting alternative theories", but its origin certainly relates to them. The person who made this stuff is an amateur alchemist, and reckoned that this stuff might be the fabled raw material for the Philosopher's Stone. (Not that the description entirely fits that theory, either.) The question I want to ask, though, is "assuming that this reaction did not in fact break the familiar laws of chemistry, what is this stuff, or is the account plain impossible and must have been made up?". Too dodgy? $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Nov 30, 2021 at 2:03
  • $\begingroup$ Normally I mightn't bother, if it was just a single account, but, as I say, several other people since then reckon to have replicated at least part of these results, and I'm just wondering whether there's a chemical explanation for that. $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Nov 30, 2021 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ N.B. I was planning on leaving the "alchemy" part out of the question! :-D Though I could put it in if you think it would actually be preferable, but it's not really relevant to the question of "assuming that this really happened and is a recognised chemical reaction, what is this stuff?" $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Nov 30, 2021 at 2:27

Of course, they are on-topic. Some examples:

  1. What metal is this?
  2. What is this blue crystal?
  3. What is the white substance left behind after boiling down water
  4. Identifying a glass frosting chemical
  5. what is the white fuzz left behind on basement floor after puddle evaporated
  6. Scary jelly forming on zinc anodes
  7. Can the green spots in these coins be copper chloride?
  8. Identifying an unknown white oxidizing powder
  9. Identity of unknown metal
  10. Strange green and gold coloured chemical [closed]

Some points to be considered:

  1. A picture will help so much in this case. If it is from some website, include the link (but don't go to some shady websites full of spam and crap).
  2. Include all the details (appearance, color, size of crystal, b.p, m.p and other physical properties)
  3. If you have synthesized the material, make sure to include the reaction details and steps.
  4. If you have found an old chemical in jar, make sure to mention from where did the jar came, how old is the chemical etc.
  5. Don't include clickbaity titles like "What is this mysterious chemical?" Of course, they are not mysterious. Most of the chemicals can be identified given enough details.

Make sure to include all the details to narrow down our guesswork.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, linking ones with lame titles kinda tempts me to close them ;) I mean "What metal is this?" is way less specific then it should be. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Dec 9, 2021 at 2:25

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