Physicists get a first glimpse of the elusive isotope nitrogen-9

Researchers may have just spotted the elusive, ephemeral nucleus of nitrogen-9 for the first time.

With seven protons and two neutrons, the lopsided atomic nucleus of nitrogen-9 pushes the limits of what can even be considered a nucleus at all. Yet signs of its existence seem to be lurking in years-old data from experiments seeking out a different unusual nucleus, researchers report in the Oct. 27 Physical Review Letters.

If follow-up studies can confirm the detection, nitrogen-9 will be the first nucleus spotted with five more protons than it can stably hold — until now, the limit was four.

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