The property of some materials by which individual atoms decay, emitting energy or particles often transforming into different elements in the process.

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Is it possible that every single isotope is radioactive, and isotopes which we call stable are actually unstable but have an extremely long half-life?

I've read that tellurium-128 has an half-life of $2.2 \times 10^{24}$ years, much bigger than the age of the universe. So I've thought that maybe every single isotope of every single atom are ...
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12answers
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How does a half-life work?

Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years. That means that after 5,730 years, half of that sample decays. After another 5,730 years, a quarter of the original sample decays (and the cycle goes on and ...
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Why is technetium unstable?

Is there a simple account of why technetium is unstable? From the Isotopes section of Wikipedia's article on Technetium: Technetium, with atomic number (denoted Z) 43, is the lowest-numbered ...
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Does average lifetime even mean anything?

So today I was trying to derive an expression for the number of radioactive atoms remaining after a time $t$ if I began with $N_0$ atoms in total. At first I tried to assume that they had an average ...
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How can a proton be converted to a neutron via positron emission and yet gain mass?

The mass of a neutron is greater than mass of a proton so how is it possible in positron emission for a proton to form a neutron and a positron?
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What happens before a radioactive element decays?

What happens to a radioactive element just before it decays? In school, I've been told that the decay process of an element is absolutely random, and it is impossible to determine which unstable ...
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Since radioactive material decays how is it possible that there is any left after 4.5 billion years?

I was not able to find an answer for this question... Some radioactive elements have half-life measured in thousands of years and some others even in millions, but over 4.5 billion years all the ...
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How do we know that some radioactive materials have a half life of millions or even billions of years?

If a radioactive material takes a very long time to decay, how is its half life measured or calculated? Do we have to actually observe the radioactive material for a very long time to extrapolate its ...
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Why do all elements above $\require{mhchem}\ce{Fe}$ not decay to $\ce{Fe}$?

OK, so $\ce{Fe}$ is the most 'stable element'. As such, why do all elements above it not decay into $\ce{Fe}$? In all cases, would it not lead to an increase in binding energy and therefore energy ...
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659 views

Why are alpha particles such a prominent form of radiation and not other types of nucleon arrangement?

It is said in many textbooks that alpha decay involves emitting alpha particles, which are very stable. Indeed, the binding energy (~28.3 MeV) is higher than for $Z$-neighboring stable isotopes. But ...
13
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742 views

Long time deviations from exponential decay in radioactivity

Are there any examples of common substances whose decay is not exponential? We're used to thinking about radioactivity in terms of half-lives. This is a concept that makes sense only for a decay that ...
12
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410 views

Radio-dating and the age of the earth

I understand there are a few radio-dating methods to determine the age of the earth, uranium-lead to name one (maybe not the best though). The ratio Pb206 + Pb207 to U allows you to find when the ...
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Why are alpha particles made of 2 protons and neutrons?

When experiencing alpha decay, atoms shed alpha particles made of 2 protons and 2 neutrons. Why can't we have other types of particles made of more or less protons?
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6answers
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Is there any thing other than time that “triggers” a radioactive atom to decay?

Say you have a vial of tritium and monitor their atomic decay with a geiger counter. How does an atom "know" when it's time to decay? It seems odd that all the tritium atoms are identical except with ...
10
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4answers
482 views

strange modulation of radiactive decay rates with solar activity

Recently i found out this uber strange article about nuclear decay rates being somehow showing seasonal variations with a high correlation with sun activity. Two very precise questions: 1) has this ...
9
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545 views

Verifying radiation measurement smart phone applications

I've stumbled upon a strange class of Android applications lately. (And I'm sure such applications are available for other platforms too.) These apps claim the ability of detecting radiation. The ...
9
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526 views

Do supernovae produce an appreciable amount of lithium?

David Z's answer to this question got me wondering - is any appreciable amount of lithium produced as the result of a supernova explosion, either by fusion (which seems unlikely to me, but I don't ...
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How do we know that C14 decay is exponential and not linear?

In my previous question I asked Please explain C14 half-life The OP mentioned that I was thinking of linear decay and C14 was measured in exponential decay. As I understand it, C14 is always in a ...
8
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557 views

Why were the fathers of quantum mechanics so sure radioactive decay was indeterministic?

The classic example of an indeterministic system is a radioactive isotope, e.g. the one that kills Schrödinger's cat. I get there are arguments against hidden variables in quantum mechanics, but how ...
8
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1answer
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Why is carbon dating limit only 40,000 years?

For an example, when they tried to get the carbon dating for presence of Aboriginal people in Australia they get to the number 40,000. But it could be much earlier. Why is that 40,000 years limit for ...
8
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1answer
378 views

Island of Stability

When I was much younger, I remember being fascinated by the thought of an Island of Stability at very high atomic numbers. However, I have not heard much on this and I was wondering Did this idea ...
8
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1answer
68 views

What happens to Cosmic Ray Neutrons at the Earth?

When Cosmic Rays fall down from the sky, they produce lots of neutrons. They are "added" to the Earth system, so what is happening to them? Do they decay to protons? It would follow that they then ...
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872 views

Is half-life a statistical average of variable decay times?

Is the half life of a material only accurate as long as you are still in a macroscopic regime? If I had 8 particles in a box would I observe a fluctuation in half lives, and what would occur within ...
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Why is beta negative decay more common than beta positive?

In simple terms, why is beta negative decay more common than beta positive? I know it's something to do with occuring inside/outside the nucleus - but I can't find a simple, easy to understand ...
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Why is the spectrum of the $\beta$-decay continuous?

the spectrum of the Gamma and Alpha decays are both discrete, i.e. the $\alpha$-particles and the $\gamma$-rays take on only discrete values when emitted from a decaying nucleus. Why is it then, that ...
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Mars Curiosity Power System

Curiosity's power source comes from a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) rather than from solar panels like the two Mars Rovers. 2,000 watts of thermal power from alpha particle emission in ...
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In a radioactive Bose-Einstein condensate, would all the atoms disintegrate simultaneously?

They're all supposed to do the same thing - so I suppose they would? Also, would the resulting half-life be the same as that of the individual atoms it is made up of?
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Can you speed up radioactive decay of plutonium?

We all know the issue of deep geological repositories for fuel rods. Is there a currently feasible way to speed up the rod's decay to render them harmless in less than 10 years?
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What other shielding material than lead is effective against gamma rays?

As the question in the title states I am wondering what material can be effectively used to shield gamma rays apart from lead? I believe concrete is often used, but it is nowhere near as effective as ...
6
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3answers
176 views

Can we find the exponential radioactive decay formula from first principles?

Can we find the exponential radioactive decay formula from first principles? It's always presented as an empirical result, rather than one you can get from first principles. I've looked around on the ...
6
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1answer
194 views

Radioactive nuclear fuel?

I suppose this is a not-too-bright question but, in a nutshell: why are nuclear fuels radioactive? With this I mean, which is the connection between being a fissile (or fertile, for that matter) ...
6
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Radioactive Decay

Problem:Nuclei of a radioactive element $\Bbb X$ having decay constant $\lambda$ , ( decays into another stable nuclei $\Bbb Y$ ) is being produced by some external process at a constant rate ...
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Radioactive decay, why such unintuitive formula?

When talking of exponential decay, as with radioactive decay, the formula used (e.g. Wikipedia and my textbook) is: $$ N(t) = N_0e^{-\lambda t} $$ This formula, with the decay constant $\lambda$ ...
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Changing the Half-Life of Radioactive Substances

Is there a way to extend or reduce the half-life of a radioactive object? Perhaps by subjecting it to more radiation or some other method.
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638 views

Can electricity transfer radioactivity?

If a cable used to power something is exposed to a radioactive source will it over time make the entire cable radioactive?
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642 views

Why does an atom remain uncharged after emission of an alpha particle?

When an alpha particle is emitted, two protons and two neutrons leave the nucleus but the electrons remain the same in number. Why does the atom remain uncharged although it appears it should have a ...
5
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3answers
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Do some half-lives change over time?

I was recently doing some physics tuition on radioactivity and the student claimed her chemistry teacher had said that radioactive substances can be grouped into two divisions: those whose half-life ...
5
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What is happening over the 15 minutes it takes a neutron to decay?

I've read that free neutrons decay into a proton, electron and neutrino with an average lifespan of about 15 minutes. Is there anything physically different about a neutron that has existed for 14 ...
5
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3answers
511 views

Is there a way to decrease the rate of nuclear Beta decay?

In that question and its answers it was mentioned that you could trigger radioactive decay by bombarding atoms with gamma rays of the right energy level (there may be other solutions I do not know ...
5
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3answers
339 views

Would 2 entangled atoms decay at the same time?

I have a very basic understanding of entanglement and radioactivity. But say 2 uranium atoms are entangled and then 1 of them decays, what would happen? Would the other atom decay as well? Or if not ...
5
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What needs to happen for one to ingest radioactive particles and how likely is this?

There are many stories about radioactivity and the relative danger of it in the news lately, but very little actual information. The radioactivity levels around Fukushima Daiichi are high, but seem ...
5
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True randomness via Radioactive decay [duplicate]

Is radioactive decay able to be used for true randomness? And do we know if radioactive decay is truly random? Edit. Here is a example true random number generator made using radioactive decay. ...
5
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2answers
496 views

Can bad guys really hide “dirty bomb” material via bananas?

This one probably has some cross-over with Skeptics SE, but I thought it fits here a little better. The concept comes from the TV show NCIS:LA second season episode "Empty Quiver" Here, the villains ...
5
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1answer
178 views

Energy balance for beta decay of cobalt-60

I am confused by a simple fact about the $\beta^{-}$ decay of ${}^{60}{\rm Co}$ nucleus. According to Wikipedia, the most likely decay branch is to an excited state of ${}^{60}{\rm Ni}$, see the ...
5
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2answers
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What happens to chemical compunds that include radioactive nuclei, when those decay?

Say you have a chemical compound made up of one or more radioactive nuclei. If the nucleus decays, does the compound? Possible outcomes I can think of: the compounds continues to exist if a ...
5
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1answer
175 views

Number of decays in a chain reaction

It is widely known that the probability of $n$ decays from one system to another $A \rightarrow B$ (e.g., electrons decaying from one atomic energy level to another or muons decaying into neutrinos ...
5
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2answers
133 views

Radioactive objects in a student's room [closed]

Contrary to common believe, radioactive materials are everywhere, including inside our bodies, our food, the air we breathe and so on. From Wiki (emphasis mine): The decay of a 14C atom inside ...
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Why do they consider radioactive matter with long half lives more dangerous than matter with a short half life?

The title says it all. For example why is plutonium considered more dangerous than radioactive iodine?
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Is there a direct relationship between an isotope's neutron count and radioactivity?

In my textbook, it lists isotopes of Carbon: C-12, C-13, and C-14. It noted that C-14 is radioactive (C-12 and C-13 are not). Is there a direct relationship between the number of neutrons and an ...
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Why is there an emission of gamma rays?

When a spontaneous radioactive reaction happens, there is an emission of gamma rays (in most cases) What causes this emission?