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10 April 2023: Physicists discover a new isotope of uranium.

Context:

A previously undiscovered isotope of uranium with the mass number 241 and the atomic number 92, or uranium-241, was found by physicists in Japan. The half-life of uranium-241 is estimated to be 40 minutes based on theoretical estimates.

Uranium:

  • With the atomic number 92 and the letter U as its symbol, uranium is a chemical element that occurs in nature. It is a silvery-grey metal from the periodic table’s actinide series.
  • There are a number of isotopes of uranium, such as U-235 and U-238, which are atoms with the same number of protons but differing numbers of neutrons.
  • It is a radioactive heavy metal that is widely distributed in soils and rocks in trace amounts.
  • An atomic number is the sum of its protons and electrons.
  • Atomic mass times the number of neutrons equals the number of neutrons.

Why is a novel isotope important?

  • It redraws the lines around the models that physicists use to create nuclear power plants and simulations of stellar explosions.
  • It provides the crucial nuclear knowledge needed to comprehend how such heavy atoms are created during violent astronomical phenomena.

Why was uranium-241 discovered?

  • At the KEK Isotope Separation System, the researchers accelerated uranium-238 nuclei into plutonium-198 nuclei. (KISS).
  • The two isotopes exchanged protons and neutrons through a process known as multinucleon transfer.
  • Different isotopes were present in the nuclear fragments that resulted. This is how time-of-flight mass spectrometry was used to identify uranium-241 and determine the mass of its nucleus.

How do magic numbers work?

  • A magic number in nuclear physics is the number of nucleons (either protons or neutrons, individually) necessary to arrange them into full shells inside the atomic nucleus.
  • A magic number of protons or neutrons in an atomic nucleus makes it far more stable than other nuclei.
  • Lead is the known heaviest “magic” nucleus. (82 protons)