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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday June 13 2018, @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) by urza9814 on Wednesday June 13 2018, @03:41PM

    by urza9814 (3954) on Wednesday June 13 2018, @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.

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