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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 dry on Thursday June 14 2018, @04:36AM (1 child)

    by dry (223) on Thursday June 14 2018, @04:36AM (#692700) Journal

    They actually mean relatively stable. Instead of a half life measured in micro-seconds, perhaps seconds or even days and according to [] 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.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 14 2018, @05:23PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 14 2018, @05:23PM (#693026)
    Merging neutron stars like the recently detected GW170817 [] 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.