Nature Defies Physics Magic: Twice-Magic and Heaviest Oxygen Isotope Proves to Be Unstable

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Japanese scientists have achieved the synthesis of the heaviest oxygen isotope, oxygen-28 (28O), marking a groundbreaking accomplishment. However, what astonished researchers was that 28O immediately decayed, contradicting the predictions of the Standard Model. This discovery challenges the fundamentals of our understanding of the universe, particularly regarding the strong nuclear force that governs the interactions of elementary particles.

The most common form of oxygen on Earth is oxygen-16. Oxygen-28, which has 12 more neutrons, had never been synthesized until now. Scientists from the Tokyo Institute of Technology successfully created it. However, they could only infer its existence through the traces of its rapid decay. Surprisingly, 28O disintegrated within a zeptosecond (10-21 seconds), a far cry from the stability predicted by the Standard Model.

“This opens up a very, very big fundamental question about the strongest force in nature — the nuclear force,” commented Rituparna Kanungo, a physicist from the University of Saint Mary (Canada), who was not involved in the experiment, speaking to New Scientist.

The Standard Model posits that particles are stable when the nuclear shell of an atom is filled with a specific number of protons and neutrons, known as “magic” numbers. Oxygen-28 contains 20 neutrons and 8 protons, both of which are considered magic numbers. This led to the expectation that this molecule would be exceptionally stable or “twice-magic.” However, this was not the case.

Scheme of the experiment on the synthesis of heavy oxygen isotopes. Image Source: R. Kanungo / Nature 2023

The synthesis of 28O was confirmed through the products of its decay, which appeared to occur in two stages, ultimately yielding oxygen-24 and four neutrons.

“I was surprised,” said Takashi Nakamura, a physicist from the Tokyo Institute of Technology and co-author of the research, in an interview with Nature. “I personally thought it was twice-magic. But nature has the final say.”

While this experiment has yet to be replicated in other labs, its results suggest that the existing list of magic numbers may not fully describe the stability of molecules. Such enigmatic findings are particularly valuable to science as they point to new frontiers for exploration.

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Vasyl Kolomiiets
Vasyl Kolomiiets
I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.

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