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Super-heavy element 117 confirmed. Here's how scientists made it.

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A heavy element has been confirmed by experiments with a particle collider in Europe and will take its rightful place as Element 117 in the periodic table, physicists say.

At a collider in Germany, researchers smashed calcium atoms into radioactive berkelium to create atoms with 117 protons.

Forty percent heavier than lead, the new element with a relatively long half-life will now await a name to be assigned by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

Temporarily, physicists have dubbed it ununseptium for its 117 protons, a merging of calcium's 20 protons with the 97 of berkelium.

The new element took 18 months to confirm, with scientists at the Oak Ridge Laboratory in the United States needing that long to create enough berkelium for physicists at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany, to bombard with calcium in their collider to create the 117-proton new element.

Uranium, with 92 protons, is the heaviest naturally occurring element, but so-called super-heavy ones -- those above atomic number 104 -- have been created in laboratories since they do not occur naturally on the Earth.

Normally, when super-heavy elements are created they are very unstable, decaying into lower number elements in nanoseconds.

But many physicists have proposed there should be an "island of stability" farther up the periodic table where such super-heavy elements would regain a stable nature.

Such elements might be long-lived enough to have as-yet undreamed of practical uses, the researchers said.

"There are predictions that super-heavy elements should exist which are very long-lived," Christoph Dullmann of the Institute for Nuclear Chemistry at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz told LiveScience. "It is interesting to find out if half-lives become long again for very heavy elements, especially if very neutron-rich species are made."

Since the "island of stability" was first theorized more than two decades ago, scientists in this century have begun to synthesize such elements using the world's giant particle colliders.

Element 117 is the second-heaviest of such elements created to date, just behind element 118, dubbed ununoctium and possessing the highest atomic mass of any element, natural or synthetic.

"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," scientific director Horst Stocker at the GSI Helmholtz Center said.

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