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Scientists finally detected oxygen-28. Its instability surprised them

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A “magic number” of physics might not be so magic after all.

Using a powerful particle accelerator, researchers have spotted an elusive variant of oxygen for the first time. The isotope, oxygen-28, was predicted to be stable thanks to its eight protons and 20 neutrons — “magic” numbers associated with extra stability in atomic nuclei. But the first observations of oxygen-28, reported in the Aug. 31 Nature, reveal that it is more ephemeral than enduring: Its nuclei crumble after about a zeptosecond (or 0.000000000000000000001 seconds).


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