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Nuclear split surprises

Physicists spot unexpected type of lopsided fission

More than seven decades after German chemists discovered nuclear fission — the splitting of an atom that is harnessed by nuclear energy and nuclear weapons — scientists still can’t describe the process in detail. A paper to appear in Physical Review Letters underscores that knowledge gap with the report of a totally unexpected type of fission in the element mercury. Instead of splitting into two equal-mass chunks as theory predicts, this bit of mercury split into uneven chunks, one lighter and one heavier than expected.

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