Newly discovered ‘Super Saturn’ has colossal ring system

super-saturn_1024

 

This is the first planetary ring system discovered outside the Solar System, and it’s got a diameter roughly 200 times larger than Saturn’s.

stronomers have found a planetary ring system with such enormous proportions, it makes Saturn’s rings look puny. The rings have formed around a young, giant exoplanet called J1407b, and they’re the first of their kind to be found outside our Solar System.

The rings were first discovered in 2012, thanks to a team led by Eric Mamajek from the University of Rochester in the US, but back then, they had no way of knowing just how big they were. They’ve since teamed up with researchers led by Matthew Kenworthy at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands to analyse 30 individual J1407b rings to finally realise the true scale of these concentric beauties.

Turns out, each ring is tens of millions of kilometres in diameter, and the gaps between them suggest that whole satellites – or ‘exomoons’ – have formed there, just like the many tiny ’shepherd’ moons of Saturn, such as Pan and Daphnis, that continue to orbit it. The diameter of the whole system is about 120 million kilometres wide.

“This planet is much larger than Jupiter or Saturn, and its ring system is roughly 200 times larger than Saturn’s rings are today,” said Mamajek in a university press release. “You could think of it as kind of a super Saturn.”

The planet is too far away to see the rings directly, so instead, the team analysed data captured by the SuperWASP project – a survey that that detects gas giants that move in front of their parent star and dim their light – so ‘eclipse’ them. In 2012, Mamajek saw odd eclipses moving in front of a young star, called J1407, and suggested that perhaps they were being caused by a moon-forming disc that had formed around a young companion planet.

Now, using imaging techniques such as Doppler spectroscopy to estimate the mass of the ringed object, the Rochester and Leiden Observatory researchers have backed up this claim, saying that the star J1407 likely has a ringed companion, which they’re calling J1407b.

“The details that we see in the light curve are incredible. The eclipse lasted for several weeks, but you see rapid changes on time scales of tens of minutes as a result of fine structures in the rings,” says Kenworthy. “The star is much too far away to observe the rings directly, but we could make a detailed model based on the rapid brightness variations in the star light passing through the ring system. If we could replace Saturn’s rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon.”

The team’s paper has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

The researchers also found that this Super Saturn’s ring system likely contains around an Earth’s worth of mass in floating dust particles. “If you were to grind up the four large Galilean moons of Jupiter into dust and ice and spread out the material over their orbits in a ring around Jupiter, the ring would be so opaque to light that a distant observer that saw the ring pass in front of the sun would see a very deep, multi-day eclipse,” Mamajek says. “In the case of J1407, we see the rings blocking as much as 95 percent of the light of this young Sun-like star for days, so there is a lot of material there that could then form satellites.”

In the data the astronomers found at least one clean gap in the ring structure, which is more clearly defined in the new model. “One obvious explanation is that a satellite formed and carved out this gap,” says Kenworthy. “The mass of the satellite could be between that of Earth and Mars. The satellite would have an orbital period of approximately two years around J1407b.”

Nobody tell Saturn she’s been upstaged. There’s no telling what the ‘crazy cat lady of the Solar System’ might do, but I could take a guess, and it involves multiple cats being hurled in our general direction.

Here’s a computer model that fits the light curve of the star J1407, as seen in the SuperWASP data:

Scientists Release First Photos of Proof of Extraterrestrial Life

Scientists Release First Photos of Proof of Extraterrestrial Life

Scientists have always pondered whether or not life exists anywhere else in the universe besides Earth. Now, researchers believe they have discovered visible proof that aliens exist, but the photos might not be what you’d expect.

Professor Milton Wainwright and his team from the University of Sheffield and the University of Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology have discovered a mysterious “dragon-shaped” organism in space, which they claim is an extraterrestrial life form, according to Express.

The organism was discovered in dust and particle matter gathered deep in the Earth’s stratosphere.

Scientists Release First Photos of Proof of Extraterrestrial Life

The “biological entity” is made of carbon and oxygen, which are the essential elements for all lifeforms.

Scientists insist that there’s no way the matter could have blown up into space from our planet, so it must have originated somewhere else in the universe.

The organism was discovered by sending balloons into the stratosphere to collect space particles.

“The photo shows a structure colloquially called ‘the dragon particle’ which scientific analysis shows is made of carbon and oxygen and is therefore not a piece of cosmic or volcanic dust,” Wainwright said.

“This is clearly a biology entity (about 10micron in size), although it is unclear whether it is part of a single organism or is made up of smaller, individual microbes.

“It is certainly unusual and seems to be like nothing found on Earth.

Scientists Release First Photos of Proof of Extraterrestrial Life

“What is amazing is that these organisms appear on the sampling stubs in an absolutely pristine condition.

“There is no pollen, grass or pollution particles found with them, or for that matter soil or volcanic dust.

“Unless a means of lifting them from Earth exists which selectively sieves them out from other Earth-derived debris then they must be incoming from space.

“This, plus the fact that some of the biological material samples by the team produce impact craters when they hit the sampler, confirms their space origin.”

“If our findings are true they will forever alter our view of life and particularly evolution on Earth and we will need to rewrite of our biology textbooks.”

The incredible discovery comes weeks after astronauts said they found traces of life on the surface of the International Space Station (ISS) which orbits Earth.

Wainwright confirmed that particles of DNA from extraterrestrial life are continuously being picked up by earthly organisms and are meshing with their genetic make up.

Obama has yet to confirm if the U.S. will begin sending the entity foreign aid and calling it an “undocumented immigrant” upon entering our Earth’s atmosphere.



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Newly Discovered Fossils Hint That All Dinosaurs May Have Had Feathers

photo credit: Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus in its lacustrine environment. Image credit: Andrey Atuchin

Over 30 species of non-avian dinosaurs have been confirmed to have feathers, either from direct fossilized evidence of feathers, or other indicators, such as quill knobs. Up until now, all of those dinosaurs were confirmed to be carnivorous theropods, like Velociraptor and the ancestors of birds. However, fossilized remains of a new type of herbivorous dinosaur indicate that all dinosaurs may have had feathers. The study was led by Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural History in Brussels and the results were published in Science.

The fossils were discovered at the Kulinda site in Siberia, along the banks of the Olov River. The new species, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, was discovered in 2013 and preliminary K-Ar testing estimates that the species lived about 169-150 million years ago. It was approximately 3 meters long, which is relatively small for a dinosaur. The bipedal animal had short forelimbs and longer hind legs with five digits. The description was made based on hundreds of incomplete skeletons, including six skulls.

The fact that the skeletons were not found intact could indicate that while the dinosaurs were alive, that environment had rivers. Upon the dinosaur’s death, the water likely transported the animal, causing portions of the skeleton to disassociate. These particular individuals were likely covered by sediment on the bottom of the river, protecting the carcass from scavengers, and allowing imprints from the feathers and scales to be preserved.

“I was really amazed when I saw this,” Godefroit stated in a press release. “We knew that some of the plant-eating ornithischian dinosaurs had simple bristles, and we couldn’t be sure whether these were the same kinds of structures as bird and theropod feathers.  Our new find clinches it: all dinosaurs had feathers, or at least the potential to sprout feathers.”

The fossilized feathers were sent to specialists who had previous experience with dinosaur feathers. The feathers discovered at the Kulinda site were in remarkable condition, allowing the experts to determine that the feathers were composed of filaments that connected at the base, rather than along a central shaft, like is seen in many modern birds.

“Developmental experiments in modern chickens suggest that avian scales are aborted feathers, an idea that explains why birds have scaly legs,” co-author Danielle Dhouailly added. “The astonishing discovery is that the molecular mechanisms needed for this switch might have been so clearly related to the appearance of the first feathers in the earliest dinosaurs.”

The researchers suspect that feathers were a common feature among dinosaurs, particularly smaller ones. They were likely used to insulate the animals, and evolved to aid in flight much later. Fossils have shown evidence of feathered dinosaurs over a 50 million year timespan, and it is possible that they first appeared 220 million years ago in the Triassic. Of course, it is a bit speculative to assume that every dinosaur could have had feathers, and a great deal of research will be needed to fully explore the prevalence of feathers among dinosaurs.



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New Method Actually Cuts HIV Out Of Human DNA

Researchers from Temple University School of Medicine have developed a method to target and snip out HIV-1 DNA from infected cells which not only successfully eliminated the virus in the lab, but also immunized uninfected cells against infection. The researchers believe this may be a step towards a permanent cure for HIV and could even be translated into an effective mechanism for controlling other viral infections. The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



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HIV/AIDS is one of the most devastating pandemics recorded in human history and continues to be a global burden. Since the dawn of this pandemic, it is estimated that around 75 million people have been infected with HIV and around 36 million have died as a result of infection.

Despite advances in knowledge and treatment, there is no vaccine and drugs are not curative. There are several reasons that therapies fail to eliminate the virus from the body, but one particular hurdle is the fact that HIV permanently inserts its genome into our own, a process called integration. The virus is then able to hide away in certain cells, creating what is known as a latent reservoir, replicating at very low levels. As soon as a patient stops taking drugs, replication is kick started. Furthermore, long-term use of toxic anti-HIV drugs can have health consequences. Therefore, in order for treatments to be effective, these reservoirs need to be permanently eliminated, which current regimens cannot succeed in.

In an attempt to tackle this problem, Temple scientists developed a two-stage system to snip out HIV-1 DNA from the host genome. HIV-1 is one of two types of HIV, the other being HIV-2. While both are important, HIV-1 is responsible for the majority of infections worldwide.

The researchers first targeted specific HIV-1 sequences called long terminal repeats (LTRs). These are repetitive DNA sequences located at both ends of the viral genome that are used to insert the HIV DNA into the host genome and also control viral gene expression. They did this by generating highly specific sequences of RNA called guide RNAs (gRNAs). They then used a bacterial nuclease enzyme called Cas9 which snips out the DNA between the two target sequences. This resulted in the complete excision of the HIV-1 DNA from the host cells with no off-target effects on the host genome. Host repair machinery then took over and stuck the DNA strands back together.

They found this to be successful in several different cell lines, including those that are the primary target for HIV. Furthermore, when the researchers added this system to uninfected cells it successfully prevented infection with the virus, indicating it could be used as a preventative measure as well as a treatment.

While the team has a long way to go before this can be used in humans, they believe this could lead to a valid method to cure HIV and are currently working towards preclinical studies. Furthermore, the approach could easily be personalized to suit the unique viral sequences of different patients, and maybe even developed to target other viruses.

NASA Launches ‘Flying Saucer’ to Test Mars Landing Tech (Video)

ldsd-rocket-powered-test

Interbreeding Among Early Hominins

photo credit: Bryan Wright

The evolutionary tree for modern humans a bit of a mess – humans haven’t had a close relative on this planet for over 10,000 years, but there used to be several other closely related species living at the same time. Genetic analyses on bone fragments from Neanderthals and Denisovans has given us new insight into our not-so-distant evolutionary past. The results indicate that not only did Denisovans and Neanderthals interbreed with modern Homo sapiens, but they also mated with an unidentified fourth hominin group. This information was presented to evolutionary geneticists last week for a meeting of the Royal Society.

Neanderthals emerged about 200,000 years ago and remains have been found throughout Europe, stretching into central Asia. While Neanderthals weren’t as cognitively advanced as Homo sapiens who emerged around the same time, they were probably the first hominins known to wear clothing, bury dead, and form languages. It has been traditionally thought that the last common ancestor of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals existed around 400,000 years ago, though new research suggests it could have been earlier.

Denisovans are an extinct group of hominins that are part of our evolutionary lineage. Our knowledge of them comes from bone fragments found in a cave that date back about 30,000-50,000 years. Though genetic analysis had been done a couple years ago, the results weren’t really clear. New techniques have yielded much more complete genetic sequences and two new studies have released different yet related results.

There is evidence of certain populations of humans alive today getting as much as 4% of their DNA from Denisovans, though there is some debate surrounding it. Additionally, there are people with ancestries outside of Africa that could have gotten about 2% of their genomes from Neanderthals, though there is some speculation with this as well.

Right now, the identity of this fourth early human group remains a mystery. They could have come from Asia, but that has not yet been made certain. Future research will hopefully identify this unknown population and help us better understand all of the different evolutionary inputs that make us who we are.

Sources:

http://australianmuseum.net.au/Hominid-and-hominin-whats-the-difference
http://www.nature.com/news/mystery-humans-spiced-up-ancients-sex-lives-1.14196
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131021-neanderthal-human-evolution-teeth/
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/38361/title/Ancient-Genomes-Reveal-Secrets/

What Ancient Secrets Lie Within the Flower of Life?

Flower of Life

The Flower of Life is a name for a geometrical figure composed of seven or more evenly-spaced, overlapping circles. This figure, used as a decorative motif since ancient times, forms a flower-like pattern with the symmetrical structure of a hexagon.

The perfect form, proportion and harmony of the flower of life has been known to philosophers, architects and artist around the world. Pagans consider it to be sacred geometry containing ancient religious value depicting the fundamental forms of space and time.

Figures as prominent as Leonardo da Vinci are said to have ascribed significance to the Flower of Life and three similar symbols, called the “Egg of Life,” the “Fruit of Life,” the “Seed of Life”.

The ‘egg of life’ is said to form the basis for music as the distances between the spheres is identical to the distances between the tones and the half tones in music. It is also identical to the cellular structure of the third embryonic division (The first cell divides into two cells, then to four cells then to eight). Thus this same structure as it is further developed, creates the human body and all of the energy systems.

The Flower of Life around the World

One interesting feature of the Flower of Life is that evidence of its importance can be found in almost every major culture around the world. It can be seen in temples within the Forbidden City of China, in ancient synagogues in Israel, in the Buddhist temples of India and Japan, in the City of Ephesus in Turkey, carved into rock in Assyria, in Italian art from the 13th century, and in Cordoba, in ‘la Mezquita’ in Spain.

The oldest known examples of the Flower of Life are believed to be those present in the Temple of Osiris in Abydos, Egypt.  Most archaeologists maintain that they are at least 6,000 years old, though some have argued that it dates to the 2nd century AD.  The most peculiar feature of the Flower of Life in Abydos is that it appears that it was not carved into the granite but instead may have been burned into the granite or somehow drawn on it with incredible precision. It is thought to possibly represent the Eye of Ra, a symbol of the authority of the pharaoh.

The Flower of Life in Religion

The Flower of Life and the Seed of Life can be found in all major religions of the world.  They are linked by New Age authors with the Biblical prophet Enoch, the Archangel Metatron, the six days of Creation, the Vesica Piscis religious symbol, and Borromean rings.

The Kabbalah, which has historically been studied by the followers of Judaism, also holds symbolic connections to the Flower of Life.  The symbol of the Tree of Life, which may be derived from the design of the Flower of Life, is studied as part of the teachings of the Kabbalah.  Additionally, the symbol of Metatron’s Cube, found by connecting the centres of each circle in the Fruit of Life, is seen in early Kabbalist scriptures.

In New Age thought, the Flower of Life has provided what is considered to be deep spiritual meaning and forms of enlightenment to those who have studied it as sacred geometry. There are groups of people all over the world who derive particular beliefs and forms of meditation based (at least in part) on the Flower of Life. It is said to contain the patterns of creation as they emerged from the “Great Void”.

Sacred Geometry

Sacred geometry can be described as a belief system attributing a religious or cultural value to many of the fundamental forms of space and time. According to this belief system, the basic patterns of existence are perceived as sacred, since contemplating one is contemplating the origin of all things. By studying the nature of these forms and their relationship to each other, one may seek to gain insight into the scientific, philosophical, psychological, aesthetic and mystical laws of the universe. The Flower of Life is considered to be a symbol of sacred geometry, said to contain ancient, religious value depicting the fundamental forms of space and time

Magnetic Levitation Train Could Reach Speeds Of 1,800 Miles Per Hour

photo credit: Southwest Jiaotong University. The super maglev in the test tunnel.

Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains have attracted a lot of interest over the years because of their high speed capabilities. Maglev got off to a slow start; the first passenger Maglev, opened in 1984, was a shuttle in Birmingham International Airport which only traveled at speeds of up to 26 mph (42 kph). Since then the technology has come on leaps and bounds and the fastest passenger train in the world is currently the Shanghai Maglev Train which can reach speeds of up to 268 mph (431 kph).

Now, a team of researchers at Southwest Jiaotong University have built a prototype testing platform to trial a new model called “super-maglev” which could, in theory, reach speeds of up to 1,800 mph (2,900 kph).

The high speeds of this train are achieved by using a vacuum tube to reduce the air resistance that restricts the speed of other maglev trains. The team reduced the air pressure in the testing tube to 10 times less than the atmospheric pressure at sea level which reduced drag substantially and therefore allowed higher speeds.

The speeds attainable by super-maglev are currently limited by the small size of the test platform; however, if longer tunnels are generated they think that it could achieve speeds around three times that of a commercial aircraft. Speeds such as this would allow you to travel from Paris to Moscow in around an hour if a straight tunnel existed, which is pretty impressive to say the least.

Read more at http://www.iflscience.com/technology/magnetic-levitation-train-could-reach-speeds-1800-miles-hour#pXd8c12ypcT65pMc.99

Simple tree branch filter makes dirty water drinkable

photo credit: Bacteria (green) trapped over pores (red and blue) in the sapwood after filtration / Boutilier et al.

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To turn dirty lakewater into drinkable H2O, peel away the bark from a nearby tree branch and slowly pour water through the wood. According to new research, this neat, low-tech trick ought to trap any bacteria, leaving you with uncontaminated water.

Okay, time for a little tree physiology. To get water and minerals up a tree, wood is comprised of xylem, porous tissue arranged in tubes for conducing sap from the roots upwards through a system of vessels and pores. Xylem tissue is found in sapwood, the younger wood that lies in concentric circles between the central heartwood and the bark. Tiny pores called pit membranes are scattered throughout the walls of the vessels, allowing sap to flow from one vessel to another, feeding various structures along a tree’s length.

Turns out, the same tissue that evolved to transport sap up the length of a tree also has exactly the right-sized pores to allow water through while blocking bacteria. Additionally, the pores also trap air bubbles, which could kill a tree if spread in the xylem. “Plants have had to figure out how to filter out bubbles but allow easy flow of sap,” study author Rohit Karnik from MIT says in a news release. “It’s the same problem with water filtration where we want to filter out microbes but maintain a high flow rate. So it’s a nice coincidence that the problems are similar.”

As Karnik’s team finds, a small piece of sapwood can filter out more than 99 percent of the E. coli from water, at the rate of several liters per day.

To study sapwood’s water-filtering potential, the team collected white pine branches and stripped off their outer bark. They attached inch-long sections of sapwood to plastic tubing, then sealed it with epoxy and secured it with clamps.

They tested their improvised filter using water mixed with particles ranging in size. They found that while sapwood naturally filters out particles bigger than 70 nanometers, it wasn’t able to separate out 20-nanometer particles.

When they poured water contaminated with inactivated E. coli through the sapwood filter, they saw how bacteria had accumulated around the pores in the first few millimeters of the wood. In the false-color electron microscope image above, (green) bacteria are trapped over pit membranes (red and blue).

Existing water-purification technologies that use chlorine treatments and membranes with nano-scale pores are expensive. Even boiling water requires fuel for heat. Here, just take some wood and make a filter of it — it’s low-cost, efficient, and readily accessible for rural communities as well as dehydrated campers in the Northeast. “Ideally, a filter would be a thin slice of wood you could use for a few days, then throw it away and replace at almost no cost,” Karnik explains.

The group is looking into the filtering potential of other types of sapwood. Flowering trees, for example, tend to have smaller pores than coniferous trees and may be able to filter out even smaller particles, like viruses.

The work was published in PLOS ONE last week.

Read more at http://www.iflscience.com/environment/simple-tree-branch-filter-makes-dirty-water-drinkable#R1xk5CROULRHQ8U3.99

New Element Confirmed

photo credit: OTNL. We can’t see the new element 117, but the berkelium used to make it is held between these tweezers

The periodic table has been extended, with the announcement of the confirmation of the yet to be named element 117.
In 2010 a US Russian collaboration announced they had produced atoms of an element with 117 protons, filling a gap that appeared when 118 was made four years earlier. However International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) insists on corroboration by two independent teams before it allows new elements to be added to the Periodic Table, although a temporary name of Ununseptium is in use until confirmation has been made. It has taken four years, but this appears to have finally arrived.
“Making element 117 is at the absolute boundary of what is possible right now,” says Professor David Hinde of the Australian National University, one of the authors of a paper published today in Physics Review Letters “That’s why it’s a triumph to create and identify even a few of these atoms.”
Hinde was part of a team at the GSI laboratory in Germany who fused calcium 48 and berkelium 249. This is not easy, because berkelium 249 is both hard to produce in substantial quantities and has a half life of 320 days. Less than half of any amount produced will still be around a year after it was made, which means transportation and purification can’t wait. The resulting product, like all atoms heavier than lead, was unstable. By watching the alpha particles emitted the team concluded that these were the product of two decay chains, both originating with 294117, that is an atom with 117 protons and 177 neutrons. One of the chains included the isotopes 270Db and266Lr, the latter adding four neutrons to the previous highest isotope of lawrencium.
In general large atoms have shorter half lives, that is decay more quickly through radiation, as their masses become greater. However, what are know as islands of stability exist, and the authors believe the one hour half life of 270Db “marks an important step towards the observation of even more long-lived nuclei of superheavy elements located on an “island of stability.’”
The manufacturing process was hardly efficient. More than 1019 atoms of 48Ca, not a common isotope in its own right, were fired at the berkelium to produce just four atoms of 117. Nevertheless, Hinde says, “On the basis of this paper it is likely that element 117 will be accepted.”
Element 117 is the most recent of six elements first announced by the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia. Of these 113, 115 and 118 remain unconfirmed, although claims have been made for the first two.
Such a small sample does not allow us to learn much about the chemistry of element 117. Ununseptium’s position on the periodic table places it under the halogen gases such as fluorine and chlorine, but the strong capacity to capture electrons that makes these so reactive weakens as you go down the table, and in fact it is thought if one could ever produce enough to observe chemical interactions it would be more likely to lose electrons than gain them .
With a dozen new discoveries since he wrote The Elements, maybe it is time for Tom Lehrer to come out of retirement to add more lines to his song. Well we can hope.
Meanwhile Hinde has still greater dreams. “The big question is, how can we create elements 119 and 120?” To do this, however, a projectile heavier than 48Ca will need to be found. Hinde is working on identifying the best candidate.

Read more at http://www.iflscience.com/chemistry/new-element-confirmed#wUVwIg7zTuj7yBQ9.99