Named oxygen-28, this isotope possesses the highest neutron count ever seen in an oxygen atom.
In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists have observed a new form of oxygen that challenges long-held beliefs. Named oxygen-28, this isotope possesses the highest neutron count ever seen in an oxygen atom. Astonishingly, despite predictions of stability, it decays rapidly.
Atoms are made up of a nucleus containing nucleons – protons and neutrons. The number of protons defines an element’s atomic number, whereas the neutron count can vary, resulting in different isotopes of the same element. For instance, while oxygen consistently has 8 protons, neutron numbers can differ.
Pushing the Limits
Before this revelation, oxygen-26 held the record for the most neutrons at 18. However, under the leadership of Yosuke Kondo from Tokyo Institute of Technology, scientists discovered two never-before-seen oxygen isotopes: oxygen-27 and oxygen-28, boasting 19 and 20 neutrons respectively.
As explained by Science Alert, the RIKEN Radioactive Isotope Beam Factory in Japan served as the experimental backdrop. Here, scientists fired calcium-48 isotopes at a beryllium target, subsequently producing lighter atoms like fluorine-29. This unique fluorine isotope was then subjected to a collision with liquid hydrogen, successfully resulting in the anticipated oxygen-28.
Unpacking the Surprises
Oxygen-27 and oxygen-28 proved ephemeral, decaying swiftly into oxygen-24 with a few stray neutrons. But here’s the twist: traditionally, 8 and 20 have been considered “magic” numbers, implying that oxygen-28 should display stability.
In nuclear physics, magic numbers signify nucleon counts that complete a shell, separated by substantial energy gaps. Nuclei containing both proton and neutron shells filled with these numbers are deemed “doubly magic” and are thus stable. Our atmosphere’s predominant oxygen, oxygen-16, fits this doubly magic criterion.
For years, oxygen-28 was believed to be the succeeding doubly magic oxygen isotope post oxygen-16, but it remained elusive. Now, Kondo’s team’s findings present a compelling reason – the neutron shell wasn’t complete, casting doubts over 20 being a magic number.
A Broader Puzzle
The current observations resonate with another peculiar phenomenon observed in isotopes of neon, sodium, and magnesium. In these cases, the 20-neutron shell doesn’t seal. The anomaly also extends to fluorine-29 and, evidently, oxygen-28.
Delving deeper into this neutron shell mystery requires further investigations into the nucleus’s energized state. Discovering alternate methods to produce oxygen-28 might offer additional insights, though that remains a challenging endeavor.
Kondo’s team has laid the groundwork for a revolutionary understanding of doubly magic nuclei, revealing intricate complexities in the atomic world. You can find the research paper by clicking here.
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