Researchers create super-obese hydrogen 7 atom

Atom-smashing at its finest produces exotic, short-lived, super-heavy version of hydrogen with six neutrons.

Sure, everybody's concerned that the United States citizens are overweight and Microsoft produces bloatware. But those problems are nothing compared to a sample of super-tubby hydrogen that researchers at a French particle accelerator created for a fleeting moment.

Physicists at the Grand Accelerateur National d'Ions Lourds (GANIL) on seven occasions created a version of hydrogen-7, a hydrogen atom with six neutrons instead of the customary zero. Results will be published in an upcoming edition of Physical Review Letters, according to the American Institute of Physics.

Deuterium, a hydrogen isotope with one neutron and one proton, is relatively common, and tritium, with two neutrons, is unstable and decays radioactively. The more neutrons are stuffed into the atom's nucleus, the more unstable the atom is.

Hydrogen-7 is so unstable that the physicists estimated its half-life to be 10 to the -21 seconds long--a thousandth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. After that, it flies apart into tritium and four separate neutrons. And even for its brief life, the atom must be forced into existence by adding energy--backwards from regular atoms, even unstable ones, which require energy to remove neutrons, not add them.

The researchers created the atom by shooting a beam of helium-8 atoms into a target made of carbon-12. Helium-8 is pretty wacky, too--it's unusually heavy and thought to consist of helium-6 with two extra neutrons orbiting outside the nucleus.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Show Comments Hide Comments
Latest Galleries from CNET
The best tech products of 2014
Does this Wi-Fi-enabled doorbell Ring true? (pictures)
Seven tips for securing your Facebook account
The best 3D-printing projects of 2014 (pictures)
15 crazy old phones from a Korean museum (pictures)
10 gloriously geeky highlights from 2014 (pictures)