Constraints on the neutron lifetime from triton β decay

Abstract

The empirical data on triton β- decay, 3H→3He+e+v˜e have been analysed with regard to their implications for neutron β decay, n→p+e+v˜e. The latter process is a primary source of information on weak interactions in the nucleonic sector1; it also has a central role in big-bang cosmology2,3 and in nuclear astrophysics in relation to the solar neutrino problem4. Unfortunately, the absolute rate of neutron β decay is rather uncertain5. The Particle Data Group has recommended the value τn = 925±11 s for the neutron lifetime6, based on two direct measurements7,8 which are in close accord, but barely consistent with the value τn = 905±11 s derived from directional correlation data on polarized and unpolarized neutron decay9–11, and the comparative half lives of pure Fermi mirror transitions12,13. A third direct measurement has given the value τn = 877±11 s (ref. 14), which is totally at variance with all other evidence. We suggest here that the triton data exclude values of τn outside the range 911±10s, and deduce a weighted mean value τn = 914±6 s.

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Byrne, J. Constraints on the neutron lifetime from triton β decay. Nature 310, 212–213 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1038/310212a0

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