And before Half-Life 3 arrives
Consider so blown, it's megablast, says this completely non-a-model boffin
The search for dark matter has not been futile ever, but scientists looking for the elusive particle discovered another rarity: the radioactive decay of xenon-124.
Xenon is a rather inconspicuous element. It is an invisible, colorless, tasteless noble gas that does not react much to other chemicals.
One of its isotopes, xenon-124, has a half-life of a staggering 1.8 x 10 22 years. In other words, an average of about three trillion times more than the current age of the universe – 13.7 billion years – would be decomposing for half of the atoms in the xenon-124 sample.
Get ready for Windows 10 May-pole. Or is it June, no, July?
Luckily, researchers working on the XENON1T detector, a 1300 kg pure liquid xenon tank used to detect dark matter, did not have to wait so long to observe the spectacle. "We actually saw this breakdown happen," said Ethan Brown, an assistant professor of physics at the Pollenshire Institute of Technology, Rensler, this week.
"It's the longest and the smallest process ever seen directly, and our dark matter detector was sensitive enough to measure it." The results are published in Nature.
Brown called it "the rarest thing that was ever recorded." A xenon-124 atom must pass a process known as "double-electron capture" to decompose into a telium-124 atom. Two protons should involve two electrons to convert to a neutron. It does not require one, but two electrons that need to be in the right location – from the core – at the right time.
"The odds of observing a decay of the atom are missing, about 1 in 1022 more than a year of watching, "Brown told Register. "We look at the fact that we have a huge number of atoms, then he disappears a small number multiplied by a huge number to allow us to see a few events during one year of search."
The XENON1T detector contains 3,500 pounds of liquid xenon at -95 degrees Celsius buried 1,500 feet below the Grand Sasso mountains in Italy. Brown estimates that there are over six million xenon-124 atoms – that's 1.6 x 1024 for you geniuses – it spreads into the reservoir. The detector takes care of the characteristic light flashes freed from the sign of the dark matter particle in interaction with the xenon atom.
These rockets are also produced when xenon-124 decays. As an atom of xenon-124 decays into a telurium-124, the two electrons are removed from their deepest shell, creating a void. Since the rest of the electrons reconstruct around the nucleus of the telurium-124, the atom emits X-ray and detectable electrons.
This is the first time the breakdown has been identified and noted, previous experiments did not have the same level of sensitivity to measure such interactions. Although researchers do not find what they're looking for, the breakdown of xenon-124 is still useful, Brown says.
"This is an immensely important step in rare-case physics as a dark matter detection. This shows how well we can work with this ever-performing liquid xenon experiment, and shows how confident we are in the data derived from our measurements. a huge step in the observation of rare phenomena and serves as validation of all measurements of XENON's collaboration in the search for dark matter. "
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