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Science News Staff

Science Ticker


Science Ticker

Despite a new measurement, the neutron’s lifetime is still puzzling

neutron lab experiment

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT  To make a new measurement of the neutron’s lifetime, physicists confined neutrons within a chamber and counted the number that remained using an apparatus (shown) located at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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A genie in a bottle might grant you a wish, but neutrons trapped in a bottle aren’t so accommodating.

Outside of an atomic nucleus, the neutral particles eventually decay into other particles. But scientists aren’t sure exactly how long neutrons stick around for before their demise: Two types of neutron lifetime measurements disagree. One type of estimate, made with a beam of neutrons, finds a lifetime about nine seconds longer than another technique, which involves trapping neutrons in a “bottle” and later counting how many remain.

Now, physicists have made a new, more precise bottle measurement of the neutron’s lifetime, pegging it at 877.7 seconds, or around 14.6 minutes, a team reports online May 6 in Science. Although the new measurement fixes some of the pitfalls of earlier experiments, it still disagrees with the beam experiments.

The impasse is hindering attempts to understand the infant universe, causing problems for calculations of how atomic nuclei formed after the Big Bang. Scientists can’t yet explain the difference, but some have speculated that weird new particles could be to blame.

Anthropology

Anthropologists in Peru have unearthed the largest known child sacrifice

By Bruce Bower 5:00pm, April 26, 2018
The largest known mass sacrifice of children occurred around 550 years ago in the Chimú empire in Peru.
Quantum Physics

Split atom clouds get entangled in quantum tests

By Emily Conover 2:00pm, April 26, 2018
Scientists create quantum links between clouds consisting of thousands of atoms.
Genetics,, Animals

Cicadas on different schedules can hybridize

By Helen Thompson 5:00pm, April 20, 2018
A new genetic study suggests that cicadas that emerge every 17 years have swapped genetic material with those that emerge every 13 years.
Microbes,, Pollution

This plastic-gobbling enzyme just got an upgrade

By Laurel Hamers 7:00am, April 19, 2018
Scientists tweaked a bacterial enzyme and made it more efficient in breaking down plastics found in polyester and plastic bottles.
Exoplanets

NASA’s TESS spacecraft launches to begin its exoplanet search

By Lisa Grossman 7:36pm, April 18, 2018
After reaching its orbit in about two months, the telescope will start scanning nearby stars telltale dips in light that signal a passing planet.
Astronomy

Delayed launch of NASA’s next exoplanet hunter is now set for tonight

By Lisa Grossman 2:53pm, April 16, 2018
NASA’s next exoplanet hunter, TESS, launches today to seek planets in 85 percent of the sky.
Animals,, Physics

In a colony, king penguins behave like molecules in a 2-D liquid

By Dan Garisto 12:03pm, April 6, 2018
Positions of king penguins in a breeding colony resemble molecules in a 2-D liquid.
Biomedicine,, Health

A new coronavirus is killing pigs in China

By Helen Thompson 1:00pm, April 4, 2018
Genetic evidence identifies a previously unknown coronavirus that’s causing problems in pigs.
Astronomy

A Chinese space station will fall to Earth this weekend

By Lisa Grossman 8:00am, March 30, 2018
The Chinese space agency’s first space station is coming back to Earth this weekend. It probably won’t cause damage, but it will cause fireworks.
Science & Society

New spending bill mostly boosts money for science research

By Emily DeMarco 6:35pm, March 23, 2018
Here’s a quick look at how science agencies fared in the newly passed spending package.
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