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Reading about the 'history' of beta decays and neutrinos, I learned that some early-twentieth-century physicists and chemists thought that the 'missing energy' of beta decays didn't go into Wolfgang Pauli's hypothesized 'neutrinos', but either just disappeared (violating conservation of energy) or resulted in an extra-strong recoil to the nucleus.

I know that Clyde Cowan discovered neutrinos a long time ago, but how sure are we that some nuclei don't receive an especially strong kick?

Would this result in 'spontaneous fission'?

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  • $\begingroup$ Kurt Hikes: "Reading about the 'history' of beta decays and neutrinos, I learned that some early-20th-century physicists and chemists thought that the 'missing energy' of beta decays [...] resulted in [...]" -- Would you please share where specificly you read about this? (I've found it hard to research the "state of the art in radioactivity" before Pauli made his brilliant proposal ...) "[...] an extra-strong recoil to the nucleus." -- Some variant under active consideration: Neutrinoless_double_beta_decay. $\endgroup$
    – user12262
    Jul 1, 2020 at 3:42

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but either just disappeared (violating conservation of energy) or resulted in an extra-strong recoil to the nucleus.

This would violate momentum conservation at the center of mass system. One has to work with four vectors, whose algebra obeys the the conservation laws. Nuclear interactions were of the first evidence for a need of special relativity in interactions.

how sure are we that some nuclei don't receive an especially strong kick?

The strength of a hit at the center of mass is contained in the energy and momentum conservation laws.

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