Physicists have finally created the nuclear ‘missing link’ on the list of observed elements — the superheavy element 117, which is made of atoms containing 117 protons that is roughly 40 per cent heavier than lead.
A team from the US and Russia produced the elusive element 117 by fusing together atoms of calcium and another rare, heavy element known as berkelium, filling in the final gap on the list of observed elements up to 118.
Like all superheavy atoms, element 117 is unstable, lasting only fractions of a second before self-destructing in a cascade of lighter elements and particles.
After smashing calcium atoms into a target of berkelium in a particle accelerator at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, the team deduced fleeting existence of element 117 by studying the daughter particles emitted as the atom decayed.
Despite the atom’s short lifetime, element 117 lives longer than many lighter elements.