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Measurements of a radioactive decay nudge a nuclear clock closer to reality

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Hickory dickory dock, this nucleus could make a great clock.

A special variety of the element thorium hosts an atomic nucleus that could be used to keep time, scientists say. In a first, researchers have measured a type of decay of this thorium nucleus that releases a single particle of light. The measurement of the energy released in the decay is seven times as precise as estimates based on different types of decays, researchers report in the May 25 Nature. The improved energy measurement could galvanize work toward the first nuclear clock, which would follow in the footsteps of atomic timepieces.


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