1st measurement of a neutron ‘skin’ is unlocking the secrets of exploded stars


Physicists have measured the microscopically thin skin of neutrons enclosing the insides of atoms of lead for the first time, finding that it’s thicker than expected. The discovery could help to unravel some of the mysteries of neutron stars — ultradense stellar corpses that are chock full of neutrons. 

An atom’s skin is an odd thing to imagine. The popular image of the atomic nucleus tends to depict protons and neutrons being packed together randomly inside a sphere — like gumballs in an old-fashioned glass dispenser. But in reality, heavier elements tend to distribute their building blocks more unevenly, with some neutrons nudged outward to form a thin “skin” that encloses the core of mixed neutrons and protons. 



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