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Heavy atom releases its intestines in decades-long experiments



Physicists have for the first time unlocked one of the key secrets of the rarest naturally occurring element on earth: astatin.

Astatin is a “halogen”, which means that it shares chemical properties with fluorine, chlorine, bromine and iodine (all elements that usually bind to metals to form salts). But with 85 protons, it is heavier than lead and is unusually rare on Earth – the rarest of the elements that occur naturally in the earth’s crust, according to chemist John Emsley’s 2011 book “Nature’s Building Blocks” (Oxford University Press). It is formed by decaying uranium and thorium, and its most stable version, or isotope, (called astatine-21

0) has a half-life of only 8.1 hours – so if you found a stash of it in the morning, half of it would be gone in the evening.


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