The world of physics is getting ready to fill in yet another blank space in the periodic table of the elements, after an international research team created a few atoms of element 117 in a particle collider.
The team consisting of physicists working with chemists managed to create just four atoms of the element, 40 percent more massive than lead, in a German laboratory.
The scientists working at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research, an accelerator lab in Darmstadt, Germany, have temporarily dubbed the new element ununseptium, but it will have to wait for the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry to decide on its official name, at which point it can take its place on the periodic table.
Element 117 is highly radioactive and although it decayed into other, lower-number elements in just a tenth of a second, it existed long enough to confirm the element's tentative first observation made in 2010.
That was accomplished by a team of Russian and American scientists working at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, with other researcher taking up the effort to confirm the elusive element's existence.
Element 117 joins a group of so-called super-heavy elements, those with atomic numbers of 104 and beyond, which do not occur naturally on the Earth and can only be created in laboratories by crashing atoms of other elements together in hopes of creating elements with higher proton counts in their nucleus.
That has proved to be difficult because, as a rule, the more protons and accompanying neutrons an element has in its nucleus, the more unstable any atom of the element is, and most super-heavy elements decay within nanoseconds or microseconds.
However, physicists suspect there may be an area on the periodic table they've dubbed the "island of stability" where super-heavy elements would display stability.
If so, they could exist for long enough to be considered for practical uses, scientists say.
Horst Stocker, scientific director at the Helmholtz Center, said the latest discovery brings that possibility closer.
"The successful experiments on element 117 are an important step on the path to the production and detection of elements situated on the 'island of stability' of super-heavy elements," said.