Scientists detect oxygen atom breaks apart in a way no one has seen before

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Most of the stuff around us, like air, water, and rocks, are stable and don’t change much. But some things are not stable and can change into something else.

This is called radioactive decay. Scientists have recently found a new way that a certain kind of oxygen atom changes and breaks apart.

This discovery can help us learn more about how atoms work.

So, what did they discover?

Usually, when certain kinds of atoms change, they turn into different atoms and let out some small particles and energy. This is normal and happens all the time.

But scientists found something unique in an oxygen atom that had fewer parts (neutrons) than regular oxygen.

This oxygen broke apart in a way no one has seen before. It broke into three smaller helium pieces, a proton (a part of the atom’s core), and a positron (sort of like a mirror-image of an electron).

How did they find this?

To make these special kinds of oxygen, the scientists used a big machine called a cyclotron at Texas A&M University. This machine can speed up particles almost as fast as light. Then, they shot these speedy particles into another machine, called the TexAT TPC, which is filled with carbon dioxide gas.

The oxygen atoms stopped in this gas and waited there for a tiny amount of time before changing and breaking apart.

Then, using computers, the scientists looked at the traces these broken particles left in the gas. This way, they could tell exactly how the oxygen broke apart. They found out that breaking into four pieces after changing is very rare— it happens only once in every 1,200 times the oxygen atom changes.

Why is this important? Scientists are always trying to understand more about how the world around us works, right down to tiny particles like atoms. By seeing how this special oxygen atom breaks apart in a new way, they can learn more about how atoms behave and what they are like on the inside.

This discovery can teach us more about radioactive decay, which has many uses and impacts on our lives. For example, we use radioactive materials in medicine for treating cancer and in power plants for generating electricity. By understanding how atoms break apart, scientists can make these processes safer and more effective.

The research team published their exciting findings in a science magazine called Physical Review Letters.

They are excited about their discovery and are looking forward to understanding more about how atoms work. This is just one step in the ongoing quest to unlock the secrets of the universe, right down to its tiniest parts.

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Source: US Department of Energy.