Scientists have created a strange pumpkin-shaped core that disappears in nanoseconds

(ORDO NEWS) — Physicists in Finland have created a pumpkin-shaped atomic nucleus that ejects protons in a rare form of radioactive decay.

The lutetium-149 nucleus has the shortest half-life of all radioactive elements, called emitting protons. It loses half of its radioactivity (decays into other elements) in just 450 nanoseconds, physicists reported March 16 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Lutetium is a rare earth element that occurs naturally as a silvery metal with 71 protons and 71 neutrons in the nucleus.

It is usually found together with the metallic element ytterbium in the earth’s crust. In the 1980s, scientists observed how an isotope of lutetium – a type of atom with a different number of neutrons in the nucleus – known as lutetium-151, decayed and ejected a proton from its nucleus while in its ground state.

The ground state is the lowest energy level an atom’s electrons can have and its most stable configuration. Proton ejection is rare, and lutetium-151 was the first isotope to observe proton ejection by decaying in a stable ground state.

Studying the decay of protons allows researchers to look inside the nucleus of an atom and understand how protons and neutrons are connected to each other.

As part of this line of research, Kalle Auranen, PhD from the Faculty of Physics at the University of Jyväskylä, and his colleagues created a new isotope of lutetium, lutetium-149, which has 71 protons and 78 neutrons in its nucleus.

They found that lutetium-149 was even stranger than lutetium-151. First, its core is not a neat sphere, but rather an oblong, flattened sphere that looks a bit like a pumpkin. This is called oblong distortion, and lutetium-149 is the most distorted nucleus ever measured.

The half-life of lutetium-149 is much shorter than the half-life of lutetium-151, which is 80.6 milliseconds.

The researchers created this isotope by shelling a nickel isotope, nickel-58, with a ruthenium isotope, ruthenium-96, reports PhysicsWorld. The new lutetium isotope decays into ytterbium-148, which by itself does not linger for long: Its half-life is 250 milliseconds.

According to PhysicsWorld, it may be possible to create lutetium-148, which will last a little longer than lutetium-149.


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