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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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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2answers
4k views

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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3answers
2k views

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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7answers
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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 ...
12
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3answers
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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 ...
12
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4answers
388 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 ...
12
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3answers
262 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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2answers
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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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2answers
553 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 ...
10
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4answers
464 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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2answers
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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 ...
8
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1answer
361 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
48 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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6answers
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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 ...
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3answers
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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 ...
7
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2answers
596 views

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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2answers
341 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 ...
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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 ...
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4answers
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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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3answers
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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
votes
1answer
184 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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2answers
241 views

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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5answers
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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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3answers
532 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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7answers
2k views

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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3answers
803 views

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 ...
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3answers
615 views

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 ...
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3answers
395 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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2answers
101 views

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 ...
5
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6answers
517 views

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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2answers
944 views

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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3answers
64 views

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?
5
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1answer
140 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 ...
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2answers
259 views

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 ...
4
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2answers
142 views

Does strong magnetic field cause time dilation?

Does strong magnetic field cause time dilation? If you have a strong magnetic field, and a magnetic radio active material. Does the half life of the radio active material change in a strong magnetic ...
4
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1answer
609 views

can radiocarbon dating be used on living things?

I have been going through a wiki article about worlds oldest living creature. As a matter of fact its a plant, a shrub to be precise. Wiki says that the plant age was determined by carbon dating. But ...
4
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2answers
264 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 ...
4
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2answers
250 views

nuclear fission and half life

Why is the alpha, beta or gamma decay of an unstable nucleus unaffected by the chemical situation of an atom, such as the nature of the molecule or solid in which it is bound? The chemical situation ...
4
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1answer
88 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 ...
4
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2answers
535 views

Predicting Decay Rates via the Standard Model

Question 7584 illustrated a procedure to forecast the decay rates of isotopes with known long average lifetimes. Lifetimes of the many U isotopes vary from micoseconds to gigayears. F has only one ...
4
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1answer
581 views

Why are synthetic elements unstable?

So far 20 synthetic elements have been synthesized. All are unstable, decaying with half-lives between years and milliseconds. Why is that?
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3answers
169 views

How do we know that internal conversion creates no intermediate photon?

I've read, from several sources, that in internal conversion -- an excited electron transferring its energy to another electron which is then emitted -- no intermediate gamma radiation is produced. ...
4
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1answer
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Gravity and Planetary Differentiation

During solar system formation, many bodies achieved hydrostatic equilibrium, a spherical shape where their self gravitational force was balanced by internal pressure. Many also achieved ...
4
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2answers
179 views

$\require{mhchem}$ $\ce{\beta^{+}}$ decay for $\ce{_9^18F}$, computing $\Delta m$

For the decay: $$\require{mhchem}\ce{_9^18F\to_8^18O +e+ +{v}}$$ To compute $E$, I need $\Delta m$, the provided answer looks like: $$m_i = 18.000938~u$$ $$m_f = 17.999159~u + 2~(5.49 \times ...
4
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1answer
324 views

Dangerous dose of I-131?

I was searching a lot and could only find dosages for curing cancer and allowed emission, but no Iodine-131 dose that could be connected with increased thyroid cancer risk (like, 10mSv is the ...
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7answers
10k views

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?
3
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5answers
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Iodine-131 half-life and reality

Iodine is a chemical element with symbol I and atomic number 53. There is currently a lot of discussions regarding radioactivity in Japan, and iodine-131. Iodine-131 has a half-life of 9 days. Does ...
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4answers
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Alpha Beta Gamma Biological Impact

Assume that alpha & beta particles and gamma photons each reach skin at the same energy. It's known that they penetrate most deeply in order by gamma, beta and alpha. How would they compare in ...
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2answers
140 views

What is average life in radioactivity and what is its significance?

By definition, average life of radioactive sample is the amount of time required for it to get decayed to 36.8% of its original amount. But what is the significance of 36.8% and why has that value ...