Aug 16, 2022

Scientists measure half-life of element that’s longer than the age of the universe

Posted by in categories: cosmology, particle physics

Circa 2019 This could lead to reactors that last nearly forever and spaceships that do not run out of fuel.

Deep under an Italian mountainside, a giant detector filled with tons of liquid xenon has been looking for dark matter—particles of a mysterious substance whose effects we can see in the universe, but which no one has ever directly observed. Along the way, however, the detector caught another scientific unicorn: the decay of atoms of xenon-124—the rarest process ever observed in the universe.

The results from the XENON1T experiment, co-authored by University of Chicago scientists and published April 25 in the journal Nature, document the longest half-life in the universe—and may be able to help scientists hunt for another mysterious process that is one of particle physics’ great mysteries.

Not all atoms are stable. Depending on their makeup, some will stabilize themselves by releasing subatomic particles and turning into an atom of a different element—a process called radioactive decay.

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