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Wikenigma - an Encyclopedia of Unknowns Wikenigma - an Encyclopedia of the Unknown

Radioactive decay

Radioactive decay is the process by which the nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting 'radiation' - which can be in the form of alpha particles (two neutrons + two protons), beta particles (high energy electrons or positrons), gamma rays (high energy photons), or conversion electrons.

The emissions are trulyrandomplugin-autotooltip__plain plugin-autotooltip_bigRandom numbers


"We can never decide for sure that a number is random, but what we can do is apply an increasing number of tests and treat our sequence of numbers as innocent until proved guilty."

Source Colva Roney-Dougal, Senior Lecturer in Pure Mathematics at the
in the sense that the exact moment that an alpha particle (for example) is emitted cannot be predicted. Neither can its direction of travel. This randomness is an integral part of current quantum theory, and is consistently confirmed by observations. That's to say that no-one can (or ever will be able to) predict when the next decay event will occur.

According to the current model of quantum physics, it's completely and genuinely random."

Source : Marcus du Sautoy, What We Cannot Know: Explorations at the Edge of Knowledge

Also see: Radioactive decay neutrino anomalyplugin-autotooltip__plain plugin-autotooltip_bigRadioactive decay neutrino anomaly

Around yr2000, researchers at Purdue University, US, noticed that some radioactive sources - which should decay completely randomly - sometimes show peaks and troughs (i.e. cyclic variations) in the averaged radiation they produce over time. Subsequent tests carried out the Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Federal Physical and Technical Institute in Germany confirmed the phenomenon - which could not be explained by any conventional theory.

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