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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday June 13, @01:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the he-ain't-heavy-he's-my-nucleus dept.

Nobelium — element number 102 on the periodic table — has an atomic nucleus that is deformed into the shape of an American football, scientists report in the June 8 Physical Review Letters. The element is the heaviest yet to have its nucleus sized up.

By probing individual nobelium atoms with a laser, the team gauged the oblong shape of three nobelium isotopes: nobelium-252, -253 and -254. These different forms of the element each contain 102 protons, but varying numbers of neutrons. The shape is not uncommon for nuclei, but the researchers also determined that nobelium-252 and -254 contain fewer protons in the center of the nucleus than the outer regions — a weird configuration known as a “bubble nucleus” (SN: 11/26/16, p. 11).

The measurements are in agreement with previous theoretical predictions. “It nicely confirms what we believe,” says study coauthor Witold Nazarewicz, a theoretical nuclear physicist at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Elements heavier than uranium, number 92, aren’t found in significant quantities in nature, and must be created artificially. Currently, the heaviest element on the periodic table is number 118, oganesson (SN Online: 2/12/18). But scientists hope to go even bigger, in search of a potential “island of stability,” a proposed realm in which elements are more stable than other heavy elements.

While many superheavy elements decay in just fractions of a second, some theoretical calculations suggest that elements inhabiting this proposed hinterland might persist longer, making them easier to study. Better understanding the heaviest known elements, including the shape of their atomic nuclei, could help scientists gauge what lies just out of reach.


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  • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @01:58PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @01:58PM (#692330)

    So, how did it become deformed? And what was its original shape?

    • (Score: 2, Funny) by waximius on Wednesday June 13, @04:08PM

      by waximius (1136) on Wednesday June 13, @04:08PM (#692386) Homepage

      They theorized it was due to the "Tom Brady" force which was first observed in 2015.

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday June 13, @06:37PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday June 13, @06:37PM (#692460)

      It was shaped like a human skull. After being crushed by $my_team, it acquired the familiar oblong shape.
      Didn't you know that's how all footballs are made? Why else would we be so adamant to preserve the legacy softening process (non-specialists refer to it as "concussions") ?

    • (Score: 2) by DeathMonkey on Wednesday June 13, @06:38PM

      by DeathMonkey (1380) on Wednesday June 13, @06:38PM (#692461) Journal

      So, how did it become deformed?

      Repeated concussions?

  • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @01:59PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @01:59PM (#692331)

    Prolate spheroid.

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday June 13, @02:19PM (8 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday June 13, @02:19PM (#692335)

    By studying heaver elements and their nuclei configurations, could it eventually give some deeper insight into natural laws that govern why nuclei are configured how they are? What causes a particular distribution of protons and neutrons? What would cause fewer protons at the center of the nucleus?

    What would cause the football shape? It is interesting that it happens, but why? Would any other non spherical nuclei configurations be possible? What causes protons and neutrons to configure themselves this way? Repeatably. Billions or Trillions of times as these elements are formed.

    This should happen anywhere in the universe. Everywhere has the exact same periodic table of Lego bricks to play with. Those bricks only snap together certain ways.*

    Why is it believed that there might be some island of stability in heaver elements? It seems as "obvious" to a non-chemist such as myself that maybe heavy nuclei become less stable because the neutrons are unable to hold them together. Maybe as nuclei get bigger and bigger, the nuclei become even less and less effective at holding nuclei together? Why would someone think differently? I heard this island of stability idea decades ago in college chemistry. But nobody said why.

    I know asking too many questions can get one into trouble as one who might question or even upset the natural order as God intended it to be. So I'll stop asking at this point.

    *I just love it when a Sci Fi says this alien metal is not found on earth! Oh, really? Just what elements NOT on the periodic table is it made of? And Captian America's shield made of the element Vibrainium, which atomic element was that again? Uh, I'm really gonna get in trouble now!

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @02:32PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @02:32PM (#692341)

      Why is it believed that there might be some island of stability in heaver elements?

      Some heave one side, the others heave in the opposite direction, there's an island of stability in between.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by c0lo on Wednesday June 13, @02:42PM (1 child)

      by c0lo (156) on Wednesday June 13, @02:42PM (#692346)

      You can blame Higgs and his boatswain for all the mess (grin)

      • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday June 13, @05:18PM

        by c0lo (156) on Wednesday June 13, @05:18PM (#692417)

        Sorry, I meant "for all the mass". Literally. (grin)

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by takyon on Wednesday June 13, @02:47PM (4 children)

      by takyon (881) Subscriber Badge <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Wednesday June 13, @02:47PM (#692349) Journal

      Why is it believed that there might be some island of stability in heaver elements?

      Background reading:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_stability [wikipedia.org]

      *I just love it when a Sci Fi says this alien metal is not found on earth! Oh, really? Just what elements NOT on the periodic table is it made of? And Captian America's shield made of the element Vibrainium, which atomic element was that again? Uh, I'm really gonna get in trouble now!

      Count your lucky stars. If Earth had naquadah we'd probably all be Jaffa right now.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday June 13, @06:20PM

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday June 13, @06:20PM (#692442)

        Very interesting. Thanks.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by DeathMonkey on Wednesday June 13, @06:42PM (1 child)

        by DeathMonkey (1380) on Wednesday June 13, @06:42PM (#692465) Journal

        Just what elements NOT on the periodic table is it made of?

        I would argue that these 10 Elements [popularmechanics.com] are not found on Earth. They're on the periodic table but they're created in a lab.

        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Thursday June 14, @02:00PM

          by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday June 14, @02:00PM (#692899)

          By "found on earth" what I really mean is "known to mankind".

          There won't be some alien metal that we don't know about, or at least cannot predict and understand that it was a manufactured element that is not known to naturally occur. (not that it might not naturally occur somewhere, but that is highly unlikely since we haven't seen any of it anywhere)

          We can make the same predictions about snapping various combinations of protons / neutrons / electrons / cruotons together just as any alien race can.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @06:50PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @06:50PM (#692469)

        Good thing we have dilithium and drunken Montanans to shoot dead any invaders from space.

  • (Score: 2) by ledow on Wednesday June 13, @02:40PM (4 children)

    by ledow (5567) on Wednesday June 13, @02:40PM (#692344) Homepage

    I would imagine that, if it were possible for some super-heavy element to be stable for even a useful amount of time, that stars and universe-forming and whatever else goes on outside of Earth would have made them and, being stable, they would have survived.

    Especially if there's a "range" of super-heavy elements that very, very, very slowly degrade only into each other.

    If it was stable, it'd still be around. And pretty much there's nothing to indicate that the trend is anything but shorter-and-shorter half-lives.

    Even if you find a semi-stable one (hours, days, weeks, months), it's not going to be all that useful to you except to say "told you so".

    • (Score: 2) by urza9814 on Wednesday June 13, @03:41PM

      by urza9814 (3954) on Wednesday June 13, @03:41PM (#692371) Journal

      You make bigger elements by fusing smaller ones, so if the requisite smaller particles aren't stable, then you've got a MUCH smaller chance of creating a large stable particle naturally. It'd still happen occasionally, but there wouldn't be much, so it seems rather plausible that we might not have found any yet. And as you've said, it might not be permanently stable. Unless it's created naturally here on Earth, we probably wouldn't know about anything that's stable for less than thousands or even millions of years. The half-life of Americium is only around 400 years, but you've probably got devices which are using that element in your own home (it's common in smoke detectors), and as far as I can tell there's no known naturally occurring source. So we know we can find unstable elements that do not occur here naturally, we've done it before. And we know they might be useful, because they have been in the past.

      But either way....the results matter less than knowing what they are IMO. If we find something stable where we predicted it, that's great, it means our theories are pretty solid. If we don't, then we can use that data to improve those theories which is potentially even more useful since it would tell us something we didn't already know/predict.

    • (Score: 2) by vux984 on Wednesday June 13, @11:37PM

      by vux984 (5045) on Wednesday June 13, @11:37PM (#692604)

      "I would imagine that, if it were possible for some super-heavy element to be stable for even a useful amount of time, that stars and universe-forming and whatever else goes on outside of Earth would have made them and, being stable, they would have survived."

      Maybe they did and do. But in sufficiently small quantities and/or sufficiently rarified interactions (neutron star collisions... etc) that we can't detect them in regular interstellar spectra, and with short enough half lives that none are left on earth.

      "Even if you find a semi-stable one (hours, days, weeks, months), it's not going to be all that useful to you except to say "told you so"."

      We have yet to find any Californium in nature, but we synthesized isotopes with a half life of 900 years, and it has practical uses.

    • (Score: 2) by dry on Thursday June 14, @04:36AM (1 child)

      by dry (223) on Thursday June 14, @04:36AM (#692700)

      They actually mean relatively stable. Instead of a half life measured in micro-seconds, perhaps seconds or even days and according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_stability [wikipedia.org] a few scientists argue for millions of years.
      As others mentioned, they're only going to be rarely created through natural processes and our only hope of finding one in the wild would be as a cosmic ray. Some cosmic rays travel close enough to the speed of light that even with a short half life measured in micro-seconds, they can travel across a large chunk of the visible universe.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 14, @05:23PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 14, @05:23PM (#693026)
        Merging neutron stars like the recently detected GW170817 [soylentnews.org] are the way that really heavy elements are generally created. If you have two massive objects each of which is made up of degenerate matter consisting mostly of neutrons and they come together and produce a violent explosion, it's a good bet that there might be some really, really heavy elements in the debris. Might be interesting to look at the spectra of the remnant of GW170817 and see if the spectra of transuranic elements are visible, and perhaps we might also see telltale signs of the weird spectra of elements still unknown to us. If they have half-lives in the months or years they ought to still be visible today.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @05:57PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @05:57PM (#692429)

    Or it didn't happen.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @07:04PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, @07:04PM (#692478)

      Here you go [adelaide.edu.au].

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 14, @02:55AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 14, @02:55AM (#692670)

    Sarcastaball

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