Scientists successfully observe radioactive decay of xenon isotope, the slowest process ever detected

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Shield Cryostat XENON 100
The cryostat and shield of XENON100. The shield consists of an outer layer of 20 cm of water, a 20 cm layer of lead, a 20 cm layer of polyethylene, and on the interior a 5 cm copper layer. (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

The research team of XENON Collaboration built an instrument which captures the processes that take time longer than the formation of the universe. The researchers have reported that they have noticed the radioactive decay of Xenon-124 which has a half-life of 1.8 * 1022 years. The results have been published in the Nature journal.

In this situation, researchers managed to study a special case known as double electron capture in which two protons present in a xenon atom at the same time absorb two electrons which lead to the formation of two neutrons and they also explained that this is the rarest thing which is multiplied by another which makes it ultra rare. Ethan Brown a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute said that they saw the decay happening and it was the slowest process ever and that their dark matter detector can very quick to measure the rarest thing recorded.

The instrument is invented to identify the interactions of hypothetical dark matter particles which have atoms weighing 1,300kg in Xenon isotope which is packed inside the tank of the device. But in this situation the censors instead of recording the particles it recorded the decaying of the isotope in itself which lead to a rare survey of a different kind. The decaying of the xenon isotope was never noticed by scientists directly even if there was a theory behind this since 1955 and it’s the proof of something they have been examining since decades.

XENON1T detects the signals sent by the electron in atoms by reordering themselves to fit for the two that were arrested in the nucleus. Brown said that a room is created in the shell when the electrons in double capture are removed from the innermost shell around the nucleus and the rest collapses in the ground state and this process was observed by them. XENON1T can also be a cause of finding important things and that the recent study can teach us more about neutrinos which are large but very difficult to detect the particles which scientists are looking for decades now.

Here the researchers noticed two-neutrino double electron capture which is due to the reordering of electrons which means two electrons were discharged by the atomic nucleus. Curt Breneman from RPI said that this is a fantastic discovery which helps in gaining more knowledge on the basic features of the matter. Scientists are currently working on upgrading the equipment for XENONnT in which the active mass detector will be thrice larger than XENON1T. It will have an improved sensitivity as compared to XENON1T.

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