How many neutrons can an atom have?

1 Answer
Mar 31, 2014

No one knows how many neutrons an atom can have.

A nucleus is stable if the number of neutrons does not exceed 1.5 times the number of protons. Nuclei that have too many neutrons are radioactive. But, even if they last for only a fraction of a second, they exist.

There is no good theory to predict the greatest number of neutrons, so it is up to experimentalists to determine the limits.

To date, the nucleus with the highest neutron/proton ratio is #""_12^40"Mg"#. Its n/p ratio is 28/12 = 2.33. It has a half-life of about 1 ms.

The heaviest known nucleus is #""_112^285"Cn"#. It has 173 neutrons. Its n/p ratio is 173/112 = 1.54, and its half-life is 29 s.