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Is there any physical matter which won't appear on x-ray i.e. invisible matter? I think I learnt at university that all phsyical matter appears on x-ray and there is no matter that can be invisible. Is this true? For instance, does dark matter and antimatter appear on x-ray or what technology is used to prove that there is something instead of nothing?

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    $\begingroup$ X-rays don't detect dark-matter, but gravity works to detect anything. Antimatter will appear on an x-ray same as matter. This question is unfocused--- do you want to talk about dark-matter, or materials transparent to x-rays? There might be an example of the latter, at least at one frequency, but I doubt it. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Maimon
    Aug 1, 2012 at 8:34

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While aiming to take a X-ray picture of a bone fracture, soft tissue all around the bone becomes invisible or unclear. In this case soft tissue is invisible or unclear.

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There do not exist materials made of antimatter, so even though they would behave completely symmetrically to the corresponding matter materials, the fact is irrelevant.

Dark matter reacts only with gravity, and X-rays are electromagnetic waves. To all intents and purposes, as far as possibility of measurements, dark matter is transparent to X-rays, since the gravitational interaction of X-rays is miniscule.

What is your definition of transparency? For example flesh is transparent while bones and metal are not for an X-ray photograph.

Hard X-rays can penetrate some solids and liquids, and all uncompressed gases, and their most common use is to image the inside of objects in diagnostic radiography and crystallography.

There will always be some interaction of X-rays through matter, transparency has to be defined.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the answer. I understand that X-ray and radiology is the most common method at a hospital to check for abnormalities in the body of people and animals. So I was wondering whether a "defect" that does not appear on X-rays could be called physical. $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2013 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ The question of "invisible on X-ray" in your context has everything to do with contrast: is there a difference in absorption between different rays? The answer can be "no" even though there is something very physical going on. For example if you take an X-ray of a fractured bone (but where the fragments are perfectly aligned) at right angles to the fracture surface, you will not be able to see the fracture. A brain tumor may not be seen on a CT ("3D Xray") scan of the brain unless you add contrast medium to display differences in blood flow; and I could go on... $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    Dec 28, 2015 at 23:16
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The question can be rephrased as "is there any form of matter that does not absorb X-rays?", because objects only appear on an X-ray plate if they've absorbed some of the radiation.

Anything with electrons in it, i.e. all normal matter, will absorb X-rays to some extent. I think the interaction cross-section for photons and dark matter is effectively zero (I wouldn't swear it was exactly zero) so you re correct that dark matter wouldn't absorb X-rays and wouldn't appear on an X-ray plate.

This is probably getting away from the spirit of your question, but you may have heard of metamaterials. You can design metamaterials that (in some very tightly controlled circumstances) don't absorb longer wavelength light like infra-red. In principle it might be possible to do something similar with X-rays, but at present our technology is miles away from this. Metamaterials work by diffracting and/or refracting light so they need structures that are around a wavelength of light in size. X-ray wavelengths are down around the 1 Angstrom mark and this is far too small for us to engineer at present.

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    $\begingroup$ It can't work for x-rays, because the wavelength is too short, they scatter off each charged constituent individually. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Maimon
    Aug 2, 2012 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ I wanted to end the answer on an upbeat note, but I have to admit you're almost certainly right. Still, I always keep Clarke's first law in mind. $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2012 at 5:41
  • $\begingroup$ metamaterials - is this similar to the way that glass inhibits transmission of ultraviolet light but passes other energy frequencies? $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2014 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ @KevinFegan: no. That's because the band gap in glass lies in the uv. See this related question for more or search this site for something like glass transparent $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2014 at 4:56
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X-rays will interact strongly with anything electrically charged. They interact most strongly with dense materials with high-Z nuclei since they have a lot of strongly charged nuclei to scatter off of. This is why on an x-ray image you effectively see a projection of the density of an object. All normal materials are made of atoms and so will interact to some degree with x-rays, although low density materials can be effectively transparent to them.
Electrons will also interact with x-rays since they are electrically charged. Uncharged particles such as neutrons will interact much more weakly with x-rays since the x-ray photons have to get inside the neutron rather than just close to it. Hypothetical materials made from antimatter would interact with x-rays in exactly the same way as normal materials. More interestingly, when anti-electrons annihilate with normal electrons they produce x-rays with a distinctive energy that are easily identified. This is the typical way of detecting positrons (anti-electrons). Dark matter certainly interacts gravitationally and does not interact electromagnetically, but that is not the only possible interaction. If dark matter can interact non-gravitationally with normal matter there may be very rare (high order) interactions with photons such as x-rays. In any case, interactions between dark matter and x-rays are far too faint to be detected.

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Beryllium but it's toxic. It's transparent

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    $\begingroup$ Have you a reference for this? $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Feb 13, 2015 at 2:50
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos Well, beryllium has an unusually low electron density in it's solid form and the electron are relatively strongly bound, so it presumably has a low cross-section. But it's still not "invisible". $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2015 at 3:08

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