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No. 19: Jan-Feb 1982

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Magic numbers in helium-atom clusters

Because spheres can be packed snugly together in certain configurations, one would expect the atoms of inert gases, such as helium, to cluster together in similar tightly packed groups. The numbers of spheres or atoms in these geometrically and energetically favored clusters are termed "magic." One would expect, for example, the number 13 to be magic because this would be the number of spheres fitting tightly into a 20-sided solid. Sure enough, when clusters of helium atoms are "weighed" with a mass spectrometer, the number 13 is strongly favored; so are 19, 25, 55, 71, 87, and 147.

Some of these experimentally derived magic numbers can be predicted theoretically, but others were surprises. Some theoretical magic numbers did not turn out to be magic in reality; notably 7, 33, and 43. Clearly nature has other criteria for "magickness" than the physicists.

(Anonymous; "Magic Numbers Do Hold Atoms Together," New Scientist, 92:598, 1981.)

From Science Frontiers #19, JAN-FEB 1982. 1982-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987