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Radioactive decay is not a constant.

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#1
This shoots so many proven theories down. Its again proof that we as species have no f#$king clue what we are doing when looking at the universe.

It's a mystery that presented itself unexpectedly: The radioactive decay of some elements sitting quietly in laboratories on Earth seemed to be influenced by activities inside the sun, 93 million miles away.

Is this possible?

Researchers from Stanford and Purdue University believe it is. But their explanation of how it happens opens the door to yet another mystery.

There is even an outside chance that this unexpected effect is brought about by a previously unknown particle emitted by the sun. "That would be truly remarkable," said Peter Sturrock, Stanford professor emeritus of applied physics and an expert on the inner workings of the sun.

The story begins, in a sense, in classrooms around the world, where students are taught that the rate of decay of a specific radioactive material is a constant. This concept is relied upon, for example, when anthropologists use carbon-14 to date ancient artifacts and when doctors determine the proper dose of radioactivity to treat a cancer patient.

Random numbers

But that assumption was challenged in an unexpected way by a group of researchers from Purdue University who at the time were more interested in random numbers than nuclear decay. (Scientists use long strings of random numbers for a variety of calculations, but they are difficult to produce, since the process used to produce the numbers has an influence on the outcome.)

Ephraim Fischbach, a physics professor at Purdue, was looking into the rate of radioactive decay of several isotopes as a possible source of random numbers generated without any human input. (A lump of radioactive cesium-137, for example, may decay at a steady rate overall, but individual atoms within the lump will decay in an unpredictable, random pattern. Thus the timing of the random ticks of a Geiger counter placed near the cesium might be used to generate random numbers.)

As the researchers pored through published data on specific isotopes, they found disagreement in the measured decay rates – odd for supposed physical constants.

Checking data collected at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island and the Federal Physical and Technical Institute in Germany, they came across something even more surprising: long-term observation of the decay rate of silicon-32 and radium-226 seemed to show a small seasonal variation. The decay rate was ever so slightly faster in winter than in summer.

Was this fluctuation real, or was it merely a glitch in the equipment used to measure the decay, induced by the change of seasons, with the accompanying changes in temperature and humidity?

"Everyone thought it must be due to experimental mistakes, because we're all brought up to believe that decay rates are constant," Sturrock said.

The sun speaks

On Dec 13, 2006, the sun itself provided a crucial clue, when a solar flare sent a stream of particles and radiation toward Earth. Purdue nuclear engineer Jere Jenkins, while measuring the decay rate of manganese-54, a short-lived isotope used in medical diagnostics, noticed that the rate dropped slightly during the flare, a decrease that started about a day and a half before the flare.

If this apparent relationship between flares and decay rates proves true, it could lead to a method of predicting solar flares prior to their occurrence, which could help prevent damage to satellites and electric grids, as well as save the lives of astronauts in space.

The decay-rate aberrations that Jenkins noticed occurred during the middle of the night in Indiana – meaning that something produced by the sun had traveled all the way through the Earth to reach Jenkins' detectors. What could the flare send forth that could have such an effect?

Jenkins and Fischbach guessed that the culprits in this bit of decay-rate mischief were probably solar neutrinos, the almost weightless particles famous for flying at almost the speed of light through the physical world – humans, rocks, oceans or planets – with virtually no interaction with anything.

Then, in a series of papers published in Astroparticle Physics, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research and Space Science Reviews, Jenkins, Fischbach and their colleagues showed that the observed variations in decay rates were highly unlikely to have come from environmental influences on the detection systems.

Reason for suspicion

Their findings strengthened the argument that the strange swings in decay rates were caused by neutrinos from the sun. The swings seemed to be in synch with the Earth's elliptical orbit, with the decay rates oscillating as the Earth came closer to the sun (where it would be exposed to more neutrinos) and then moving away.

So there was good reason to suspect the sun, but could it be proved?

Enter Peter Sturrock, Stanford professor emeritus of applied physics and an expert on the inner workings of the sun. While on a visit to the National Solar Observatory in Arizona, Sturrock was handed copies of the scientific journal articles written by the Purdue researchers.

Sturrock knew from long experience that the intensity of the barrage of neutrinos the sun continuously sends racing toward Earth varies on a regular basis as the sun itself revolves and shows a different face, like a slower version of the revolving light on a police car. His advice to Purdue: Look for evidence that the changes in radioactive decay on Earth vary with the rotation of the sun. "That's what I suggested. And that's what we have done."

A surprise

Going back to take another look at the decay data from the Brookhaven lab, the researchers found a recurring pattern of 33 days. It was a bit of a surprise, given that most solar observations show a pattern of about 28 days – the rotation rate of the surface of the sun.

The explanation? The core of the sun – where nuclear reactions produce neutrinos – apparently spins more slowly than the surface we see. "It may seem counter-intuitive, but it looks as if the core rotates more slowly than the rest of the sun," Sturrock said.

All of the evidence points toward a conclusion that the sun is "communicating" with radioactive isotopes on Earth, said Fischbach.

But there's one rather large question left unanswered. No one knows how neutrinos could interact with radioactive materials to change their rate of decay.

"It doesn't make sense according to conventional ideas," Fischbach said. Jenkins whimsically added, "What we're suggesting is that something that doesn't really interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed."

"It's an effect that no one yet understands," agreed Sturrock. "Theorists are starting to say, 'What's going on?' But that's what the evidence points to. It's a challenge for the physicists and a challenge for the solar people too."

If the mystery particle is not a neutrino, "It would have to be something we don't know about, an unknown particle that is also emitted by the sun and has this effect, and that would be even more remarkable," Sturrock said.
Source
 
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#2
Its always interesting when some theory that was taken as granted for a long time gets shaken up. And its always some dude who randomly noticed something off. We may not know jack about the universe, but we keep inching forward.

I just glanced over the article as I should be doing something else; is the random decay process even considerably off, or so marginal that when determining the age of some ancient thing, it comes down to mere days off?
 
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#3
Ummmm.....so this means that there is a chance that all these carbon dating were a bit off ?

Yes....finally a good news.
 
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#4
Its always interesting when some theory that was taken as granted for a long time gets shaken up. And its always some dude who randomly noticed something off. We may not know jack about the universe, but we keep inching forward.

I just glanced over the article as I should be doing something else; is the random decay process even considerably off, or so marginal that when determining the age of some ancient thing, it comes down to mere days off?
It all depends on the distance from the Sun. Could be days off. Could be thousands of years off. They don't know. All in all its a kick to the nuts of Archeology and quantum phyics......I love it! :laugh:

I love nature. Its the ultimate troll.
 

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#5
Well that's interesting. It sounds like they have more questions than answers though. It will be interesting where it leads.
 

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#7
neutrinos affecting decay rates is nothing surprising.

if you shoot neutrons at atoms they decay faster too (nuclear power, atomic bomb)

would be interesting to see some deviation numbers and compare that to time x number of atoms x number of neutrinos x neutrino interaction chance
 
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#9
I heard this on " Through the wormhole " ! I love that show .
Indeed. Everything about it is great down to Morgan Freeman as narrator. Guess I missed that one though.
 
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#10
Eh. I've yet to see anything new or exciting on that through the wormhole crap. And I have hard time looking at Morgan Freeman without thinking about that whole stepdaughter thing.
 
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#11
This is interesting stuff. Thanks. Nice to know even the Sun still holds secrets.
 
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#12
Eh. I've yet to see anything new or exciting on that through the wormhole crap. And I have hard time looking at Morgan Freeman without thinking about that whole stepdaughter thing.
Well I'm not exactly a science geek so I find it informative, interesting and entertaining.
 

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#14
""It doesn't make sense according to conventional ideas," Fischbach said. Jenkins whimsically added, "What we're suggesting is that something that doesn't really interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed."

Beautiful sentence there.
 
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#15
It's exactly as my high school physics professor said. In Science, there is no fact. There is no proof. There are only theories. As we do experiments and perform observations, we can say that a theory is more or less likely true. After time and many properly performed experiments, a theory can be said to be more and more (or less) likely. The "laws" of physics are merely theories which have proven to be very likely true, at least under our observable conditions. (but cannot be said to be, within the constraints of true science. Since we cannot control all variables - or in many cases are not even aware of half the variables involved)

As soon as you start saying anything is without a doubt undeniably true, you are no longer peddling science, you're peddling religion.

(yeah, yeah, MATH, I know...)
 
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twilyth

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#16
Everybody knows there are problems with the standard model. For example the zero point energy predicted by quantum mechanics is off by 120 orders of magnitude from what is measured via the Casimir effect.

I think most physicists would be excited to find that there is some new physics to be discovered beyond what the current standard model can account for.
 
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#17
This is interesting stuff. Thanks. Nice to know even the Sun still holds secrets.
Humanity has come quite far in describing the phenomena around us but the truth is that what we know that we don't know grows faster than what we know (wait wut? :D). We still have many (many) unanswered questions some of which pertain to very fundamental things like the earths magnetic field and climate; the origins of life (as opposed to species); the workings of the mind; even the existence of existence.

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. - Stephen Hawking
Eh. I've yet to see anything new or exciting on that through the wormhole crap. And I have hard time looking at Morgan Freeman without thinking about that whole stepdaughter thing.
I recently saw a couple episodes of Through the Wormhole, and although I didn't see anything new, I really enjoyed the show. Morgan Freeman, and/or his writers, ask the most fundamental questions which are often indirectly confronted by hosts who do not want to overburden (terrify) their audience. I think Carl Sagan would very much enjoy the spirit of Freeman's show.
Originally written by Carl Sagan
We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing of the world. We give little thought to the machinery that generates the sunlight that makes life possible, to the gravity that glues us to an earth that would otherwise send us spinning off into space, or the atoms of which we are made and on whose stability we fundamentally depend. Except for children (who don’t know enough not to ask the important questions), few of us spend much time wondering why nature is the way it is; where the cosmos came from, or whether it was always here; if time will one day flow back backward and effects precede causes; or whether there are ultimate limits to what humans can know. There are even children, and I have met some of them, who want to know what a black hole looks like; what is the smallest piece of matter; why we remember the past and not the future; how it, if there was chaos early, that there is, apparently, order today; and why there is a universe.

In our society it is still customary for parents and teachers to answer most of these questions with a shrug, or with an appeal to vaguely recalled religious precepts. Some are uncomfortable with issues like these, because they so vividly expose the limitations of human understanding.
Also, I can't stop thinking about the stepdaughter thing when I'm watching the show either! :roll:
 

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#18
God did it /end thread. lol jk

Interesting stuff.
 
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#19
God did it /end thread. lol jk

Interesting stuff.
Naaaa just nature trollin'. Good stuff indeed lol

I wish I had the power of nature. I would be trollin' people like Hawkins and the pope like CRAZY!
 
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#20
So correct me if i am wrong, atomic clocks are worthless?
 

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#21
All posts discussing science vs. religion were moved to this thread
 

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#22
So correct me if i am wrong, atomic clocks are worthless?
They don't rely on radioactive decay to function.



This discovery isn't going to have much impact on anything except the age of the known universe. We're still talking billions of years old but it might end up being ± 1 billion years from 13.75 billion years old instead of the tighter margin of error previously used (± 0.11 billion years).
 
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#23
They don't rely on radioactive decay to function.



This discovery isn't going to have much impact on anything except the age of the known universe. We're still talking billions of years old but it might end up being ± 1 billion years from 13.75 billion years old instead of the tighter margin of error previously used (± 0.11 billion years).
It plays into radiation treatment also. It will allow doctors to be more precise in the dosage.....in theory.
 

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#24
Yeah, which could lead to a higher success rate when treating cancers with radiation therapy. It's still ironic they use radiation which often causes cancers as a means to kill cells/treat cancer.
 

W1zzard

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#25
It's still ironic they use radiation which often causes cancers as a means to kill cells/treat cancer.
i rather have a +20% chance of cancer in 10 years than a 100% chance of dying from cancer in 3 months
 
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