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The Strange Case of Solar Flares and Radioactive Decay Rates

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the cool-science dept.

Science 408

DarkKnightRadick writes "Current models for radioactive decay have been challenged by, of all sources, the sun. According to the article, '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.' This is important because the rate of decay is very important not just for antique dating, but also for cancer treatment, time keeping, and the generation of random numbers. This isn't a one time measurement, either. '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.'"

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In other news (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350686)

Linux is still for fags.

Re:In other news (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350720)

Only Pink Hat Linux. I've never gotten more trim since I made the switch to Manlyuntu.

Re:In other news (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33351238)

The alpha for 10.10 "Boinkin' Beaver" is out.

Re:In other news (1)

Roskolnikov (68772) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350758)

and here I thought C : Enter was a DOS thing.

Silly poster, tricks are for hookers.

Earth Date (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350700)

Does this change our dating of the earth? I heard somewhere that light was slowing down and thus our 4.5 Billion and 65 million year estimates on some issues is waaaaaay out.

Re:Earth Date (1, Redundant)

Kagura (843695) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350812)

... 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.

Chances are it's just seasonal effects on the testing equipment, with varying temperatures and humidity levels.

Re:Earth Date (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350858)

They mentioned that in the article. Is there a frakkin echo in here?

Re:Earth Date (1, Flamebait)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350874)

... 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.

Chances are it's just seasonal effects on the testing equipment, with varying temperatures and humidity levels.

Maybe the cleaning lady dusts the lab more in with winter because there is less gardening to do, so there is less background radiation, and the instruments are calibrated once a month on a test target plus background.

Re:Earth Date (3, Informative)

AJWM (19027) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351008)

Except that closer analysis of the Si-32 data from Brookhaven also showed a 33-day cycle correlating to the rotation of the Sun's core.

Re:Earth Date (5, Interesting)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351486)

They found the same results in historical data of various labs. That of course does not rule out such a mundane reason, it makes it less likely.

I agree that there are certainly seasonal variations in labs, even if you try to keep it as constant as possible. But for starters the air in the lab has to be refreshed all the time, and this air comes from the outside. I can imagine the composition changes between summer and winter (plants don't grow in winter).

The 33-day cycle another replier mentioned is interesting of course, as it correlates with a solar cycle and no normal human cycles.

A multi-year cycle correlating to solar spots could be interesting.

Effects correlating to known solar flares too.

Re:Earth Date (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350818)

Does this change our dating of the earth? I heard somewhere that light was slowing down and thus our 4.5 Billion and 65 million year estimates on some issues is waaaaaay out.

This is yet another thing that is predictable under the Electric Universe model. Electrical arcs in plasma can directly transmute elements given enough power; a small fluctuation in a circuit like those caused by solar flares would just slightly affect decay like they found here. Cue the idiots who have never studied EU theory to chime in and argue against things it never claimed. None are so blind as those who will not see, as it is said.

Just to pre-empt it... (5, Funny)

Tenek (738297) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350704)

No, this does not get you down to a 6000-year old Earth. Sorry.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350750)

If this isn't clear and irrefutable evidence supporting global warming, then I don't know what is. When will the climate change deniers admit it?

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350796)

I don't think anyone really believes the earth is 6000 years old.
Just that Adam lived 6000 years ago.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (5, Informative)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350848)

I don't think anyone really believes the earth is 6000 years old.
Just that Adam lived 6000 years ago.

Nope, there are plenty of people around who believe that the days referred to in Genesis are literal days, that Adam was around less than a week after the Earth itself, and that all of this happened six-millennia-and-change ago. They even have a shiny web site where they explain everything.

http://www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers#/topic/age-of-the-earth [answersingenesis.org]

Don't underestimate these people. They're loons, but they're well-organized and numerous loons.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (2, Informative)

the_womble (580291) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351056)

I have doubts about how numerous they are: being vocal and media savvy can make a group seem much larger than it is.

Also remember that they are largely restricted to the US and the Middle East.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (4, Informative)

rve (4436) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351136)

Also remember that they are largely restricted to the US and the Middle East.

Bullpoopie. Such ideas have similar prevalence here in protestant parts of Western Europe. Evangelicals are just not as organized politically, and civilians don't have a way of influencing the curriculum of schools, so it's not a high profile issue.

In Catholic tradition, it's not as common to think of the bible as the literal word of God, so it's less of an issue.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (5, Informative)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351166)

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your side of the debate, this is not the case.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/27847/majority-republicans-doubt-theory-evolution.aspx [gallup.com]

while the title of the article focuses on Republicans, it goes on to discuss Americans in general. Fully 66% of the country holds to some form of a young creationist perspective for humanity (strangely combined with a more even distribution of views on evolution and an old planet/universe. If anything, by these numbers, which appear to hold up in other surveys, the evolutionary system appears to be the vocal minority's position. Within the survey, 38% held to a theistic evolution-esque model.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33351170)

Even us Southern Baptists (mostly) think they're loons. They guys at the top are in it for the money, trying to inflate an unimportant issue to a major doctrinal point (coming down on the wrong side of it, acting contrary to traditional church leaders like Augustine).

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (0)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351354)

However, maybe earth's rotation was at a different speed at the time. One "day" in Adam and Eve's time might have been a lot longer than it is today, if the rate of earth's rotation massively increased at some point.

Also... how do you define a "day" before earth existed?

Isn't a day defined as the sun seeming to rise and fall, but not a specific amount of time?

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (0)

bytesex (112972) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351058)

Adam may have been. Just like, as is proven by history, at least a couple of million Chinese and Egyptians.

Re: Just to pre-empt it... (4, Interesting)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351158)

Just like, as is proven by history, at least a couple of million Chinese and Egyptians.

Genesis literalists like to "show" that if you started with eight people around the assumed time of the flood, it takes only a modest exponential growth rate to get the world's current population. Too bad they don't pause to consider what their curve predicts for just a few hundred years beyond the starting point.

And therein lies, I think, the big cognitive difference between scientists and traditionalists. Scientists are all over their own hypotheses with "what about this?" questions, but a traditionalist doesn't look beyond the most superficial analysis if it gives the desired result.

Re: Just to pre-empt it... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351420)

Genesis literalists like to "show" that if you started with eight people around the assumed time of the flood, it takes only a modest exponential growth rate to get the world's current population.

Assuming Noah & Mrs Noah were both a bit past it, that means everyone is a descendant of his three sons; the third generation is produced by "begetting" with [at the very least] cousins.

So humanity is descended from a bunch of Foresters/Tasmanians/West Virginians. Actually, when you think about it, that explains a lot.

Re: Just to pre-empt it... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351118)

I don't think anyone really believes the earth is 6000 years old.
Just that Adam lived 6000 years ago.

I was raised in a church where most would have me believe that *nothing* existed a week before Adam was molded.

But those with a heretical bent did go for the day-age interpretation of Genesis I, to reduce at least some of the glaring conflicts with reality.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (1)

walter_f (889353) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351300)

It might be even correct that Adam lived 6000 years ago.

If so, he lived happily some 2000 years _after_ some other people (many of them) had already started cultivating wheat, weaving textiles and manufacturing ceramics, such as in Mesopotamia.

How should he have known, in his idyllic garden, with so many trees to pluck fruit from (except "that" infamous one, of course)?

Maybe "Adam" is just another word for "A not-so-talented guy of ancient times".

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (2, Funny)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351372)

Admiral.... If we go by the book, like, days would seem like hours.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (0, Redundant)

WilliamGeorge (816305) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350820)

I know that was written somewhat tounge-in-cheek, and that on its own this does not demonstrate a significant enough change vis-a-vie the common age-dating methods... but what it *does* do is call into question the very premise that those methods are based on. If research bears out these ideas, then other solar activity in the past could easily have affected things - either to make the apparent age of the earth greater or less. It seems that the more we study the more we find out that these things humanity has been 'sure of' at points in history are just plain wrong: the earth isn't flat, the earth isn't the center of the solar system, and maybe the earth isn't billions of years old...

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (5, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350884)

but what it *does* do is call into question the very premise that those methods are based on ... It seems that the more we study the more we find out that these things humanity has been 'sure of' at points in history are just plain wrong: the earth isn't flat, the earth isn't the center of the solar system, and maybe the earth isn't billions of years old

TFA doesn't say how much the observed decay rates might be changing, but I really, really doubt that it's enough to make a difference to our large-scale picture of how old things are (Earth, billions of years; multicellular life, hundreds of millions of years, etc.) If the rates were that variable, we would have seen other signs of it before now. Things might turn out to be a little younger or older than we thought, but Really Old is still going to be Really Old.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (4, Insightful)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351190)

More likely, our current measured rates are accurate averages, but this will widen the margin of error. So instead of "five million years old, plus or minus ten thousand years" you might get "five million years old, plus or minus a hundred thousand years".

Onions. On belts. (5, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351524)

Overheard in a museum:

Boy: Mister, how old is that dinosaur skeleton?

Curator: [after some mumbling and finger counting] 60 million and four years, eight months and sixteen days.

Boy's mother: How can you know so accurately?

Curator: Well, in the training course they told me it was 60 million years old. That was when I joined, which would be back in January 2006...

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350892)

Humans are fallible, ergo God exists.

You're a fucking imbecile.

Re: Just to pre-empt it... (4, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351060)

but what it *does* do is call into question the very premise that those methods are based on.

Right. It's altogether conceivable that trees grew a dozens of rings per year until just before we started looking!

It seems that the more we study the more we find out that these things humanity has been 'sure of' at points in history are just plain wrong: the earth isn't flat, the earth isn't the center of the solar system, and maybe the earth isn't billions of years old...

The only reliable trend is that every time we find out something is wrong, the universe proves to be even more unlike sacred texts portray it.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (1)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351184)

If anything, it sounds like our estimates of the Earth's age may be too young, not too old. Pending, of course, confirmation that the results aren't the result of an error in statistical analysis.

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351346)

If decay slows down, doesn't this suggest earth could be Older than previously calculated, not younger?

Re:Just to pre-empt it... (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351530)

sorry, but "because I don't believe in that religion" isn't a legitiate scientific proof either. Only scientific proof is scientific proof.

Or maybe... just maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350710)

Time moves faster in the winter.

Re:Or maybe... just maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350746)

You've obviously never spent any amount of time in Minnesota.

Re:Or maybe... just maybe... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350856)

Or neutrino flux changes the way decay rates are measured.

decay rates based on season? (1)

Roskolnikov (68772) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350734)

or proximity to the sun? could the amount of ambient energy have an effect on decay rates? Ice melts faster in the summer than in winter, or does it? observed decay is relative to an average state.... balanced equations and all that stuff I tried to forget from school come back....

Re:decay rates based on season? (5, Informative)

trip11 (160832) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350768)

I read the article (yes yes I know). But in summary, your hypothesis (temperature fluctations0 was what everyone thought, but the groundbreaking bit was that they did an experiment that provides a LOT of evidence to the contrary.

The sun has a cycle of it's own (about 1 month). They did a much more accurate study and found the decay rate is tightly correlated to the sun's cycle.

Longer version:
The theory now is that it has to do with the neutrino flux. As we move further from the sun the flux goes down by 1/R^2. We saw that fluctuation first. But the neutrino flux also varies with the solar cycle which is independent of the earth's temperature.

This is very very cool experimental physics. Kudo's to them!

Re:decay rates based on season? (2, Interesting)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351062)

There's another possible simple test: use the southern hemisphere. If it goes down in winter in the southern hemisphere at the same time as going up in the northern, that's a whole different data point.

Re:decay rates based on season? (5, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351162)

Neutrino density is not going to vary a lot by hemisphere because the planet is fairly transparent to neutrinos. However, the Earth as a whole (including the southern hemisphere) is some 3% closer to the sun during the winter (January) than during the summer.

Re:decay rates based on season? (1)

ComaVN (325750) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351332)

Or... use a termostat in the lab?

Re:decay rates based on season? (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33351558)

Kudo's to them!

Kudos is not a plural, so no need for the apostrophe.

No confirmation from Cassini (5, Interesting)

MMatessa (673870) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350752)

One way to double-check the seasonal variation effect is to look at the output level on radioisotope power sources in spacecraft. Cooper (2008) found no relationship between radioactive decay and distance to the sun [astroengine.com] .

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350784)

really nice find - that wrecks their thesis at the bottom.

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (2, Interesting)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350970)

really nice find - that wrecks their thesis at the bottom.

Huh? Why?

Assuming the explanation is "Seasonal variation in neutrino flux", because 2 radioactive elements (silicon-32 and radium-) seems to show a neutrino capture cross-section higher than another one (Pu238)? Would this be so unusual?

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (1)

Ifni (545998) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350974)

Not really. The thesis in the article from the summary is that the rotation of the sun causes the fluctuations - in other words, the side of the sun's core facing you impacts decay rate. The article cited in the GPP concerning measurements from Cassini ends indicating that orbital distance has no measurable effect, but suggests other options, one of which is orbital location, which I presume means which side of the sun you are on. In short, one of the possible explanations from the Cassini measurements has been given more support from the later research discussed in the summary.

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (1)

Roskolnikov (68772) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350792)

Cassini also has the advantage of little if any other material around it to have an adverse effect on measurement, measured decay could be affected by surroundings.
I'm not even certain how you would go about having a closed system to measure, you can know a speed or a location but.....

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (2, Interesting)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350988)

Cassini also has the advantage of little if any other material around it to have an adverse effect on measurement, measured decay could be affected by surroundings.

Even more than this.
What is the precision one can trust for Cassini's measurements? How small is the seasonal variation in Earth conditions? How the two compares?

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350844)

What if the seasonal variation is caused by particles that require the mass of the earth to slow them down sufficiently to interact with the radioactive material?

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (1)

Guppy (12314) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351022)

What if the seasonal variation is caused by particles that require the mass of the earth to slow them down sufficiently to interact with the radioactive material?

Interesting idea, like a moderator. We would expect variations to occur with latitude (and season), revolution of the earth, and perhaps the rare lunar eclipse. Problem with this explanation is, I have a hard time imagining the 24-hour cycle signal would get missed.

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (4, Informative)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350852)

Not quite. Cooper found no variation with regards to one specific isotope of plutonium. There could be a different mechanism at work to cause plutonium's decay, or multiple mechanisms. Maybe neutrinos are involved. Maybe not. The ideas presented in TFA are theories, which will (hopefully) eventually lead to a testable hypothesis.A single contradictory result, without explanation, should not be enough to halt research in the field.

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (5, Insightful)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350930)

Facts:
  1. long-term observation of the decay rate of silicon-32 and radium-226 show a small seasonal variation (on Earth conditions? With lab equipment that can be subject to other seasonal variation?)
  2. radioactive decay of the Pu-238 isotope is insensitive (within the experimental precision) to distance to the Sun

What valid conclusion can one derive from the above facts? In my opinion, exactly one, which is more research is necessary.

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (2, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351138)

What valid conclusion can one derive from the above facts? In my opinion, exactly one, which is more research is necessary.

And that's a conclusion you can take to the bank (after the grant comes in, of course).

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33351402)

What valid conclusion can one derive from the above facts? In my opinion, exactly one, which is more expensive, publicly funded research is necessary.

FTFY

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (2, Funny)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351468)

more expensive, publicly funded research is necessary.

Of course is necessary!!!
Do you want another Three Miles Island to happen because of seasonal variations in radioactive decay rate takes us by surprise? Wouldn't you want to see some safe nuclear fuel, impervious to sun's flares, being developed? Is it not enough we have to deal with global warming?

(warning: the above post is intended humorous only, under no circumstances the words below represent the author's opinions on real issues! In plain word: c'mon, mods, it is a joke!)

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (4, Interesting)

AJWM (19027) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350936)

Except that Cassini isn't measuring the decay rate, as the other experiments were directly, but measuring the power output from thermocouples heated by the energy of the particles captured (by the overall mass of the thermocouple/isotope system) from the decaying material -- which also has a rather long half-life.

There's a lot of averaging out of effects in all that, and the effect they're looking for is quite small. The link didn't mention a lower bound for the detection sensitivity based on looking at Cassini power outputs. Cassini doesn't rule it out, it just sets an upper bound for the effect -- and if the effect were that strong we'd likely have noticed it before now.

Re:No confirmation from Cassini (2, Interesting)

samullin (1850996) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351088)

I believe the seasonal variation in measured decay rates is likely to be a mundane explanation, but I also believe that the evidence from RTG power output in the article you linked is too indirect to prove or disprove the hypothesis. The author goes into a lot of detail to model the RTG thermal efficiency but the variations in decay rates in the attached figure were on the same order as his estimated error in the RTG model. Conceptually, it seems like this is an experiment that can be repeated with a good Geiger counter on a cheap satellite without relying on indirect measurements.

You can't be serious! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350790)

You mean nobody ever thought of this before?!?!?!?!

Personally I would have thought that rates of radioactive decay would be affected by things like gravity and temperature. Perhaps I'm wrong?!

Re:You can't be serious! (2, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350808)

Its a bit like correlating car crashes with the movement of galaxies. Atoms are tough little beasts and not really affected by anything other than other particles.

Re:You can't be serious! (2, Funny)

Garble Snarky (715674) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350946)

Of course, most every phenomenon in the universe involves "other particles"... perhaps you want to rephrase that comment?

Re:You can't be serious! (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350966)

Other particles are sufficiently high energy to change the internal workings of atoms.

Re:You can't be serious! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33351154)

It's probably some form of "Dark -insert word-" . We'll just make something up so the equations work. Yes, you fudging numbers in your high school physics experiments does have a use...

Re:You can't be serious! (2, Funny)

pitterpatter (1397479) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351228)

Its a bit like correlating car crashes with the movement of galaxies.

AHA!! I just knew astrology had merit!

Re:You can't be serious! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350832)

And don't forget yo mama's water retention level.

Re:You can't be serious! (1)

Stoutlimb (143245) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351036)

Well, temperature no.

Things like radioactive decay... are affected by things like high energy impacts, or variations in the cosmological constants of the universe. Perhaps a rise in and fall in the base energy of the zero point field? I'm not sure neutrinos would be energetic enough to do this.

Secret Weapon (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33350886)

I wonder when the US will weaponize this into a neutrino gun that detonates Iranian nukes from the other side of the planet.

Re:Secret Weapon (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33351024)

That's not funny... that's awesome!

Re:Secret Weapon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33351182)

You have it backwards. An increased neutrino flux from the solar flare is suspected to have slowed down the rate of decay of radioactive elements.

So what you have the makings for is a defensive weapon. Saturate an inbound warhead with massive amounts of neutrino's from your neutrino cannon, and prevent it from reaching critical mass and exploding.

This, sunspots and climate change (0)

papabob (1211684) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350888)

I wonder if this discovery can affect the climate change research. I mean, some paleo-climate stuff used in scientific papers use the amount and decay of certain isotopes to extrapolate the temperatures thousands years ago. We have just learnt that sunspot may be highly related with Earth climate (if in the next ten years the sun go nuts and start to show sunspot like a dalmatian and we saw the temperatures dropping, it could be the nail in the coffing of man-made global warming) and now an inpredictable solar flare can alter these measurements and provide us with false data.

Any expert around here that knows if this discovery can be "corrected" without a time machine?

Re:This, sunspots and climate change (2, Informative)

finarfinjge (612748) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351096)

Please don't 'help' the fight to bring some balance to the AGW debate. And to answer your question. Almost certainly not.

What you are discussing is one of many so called proxies. Don't know what "proxy" means in that connotation, as a thermometer meets that definition. It too is a proxy for measuring temperature. Why not just say thermometers?
Anyway.
Radioisotopes are one means of estimating temperature. There are others. Some more robust than others. In the area of skeptical science, versus unskeptical science, you will find that the more informed the debater, the more subtle the argument.

Let the mod wars begin

JE

Outstanding example of "Little Science" (2, Insightful)

Guppy (12314) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350920)

One of the really cool parts of this finding -- in modern times, experimental particle physics has required increasingly huge machines (and budgets) to participate. For a change, here's researchers everywhere can participate in, possibly revolutionary, and for very little cost.

Electro-Weak force (2, Interesting)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350954)

Strong Magnetic Fields and High temperatures can influence the Weak Nuclear force, causing it to change.

We have already coupled the forces of ElectroMagnetism and the Weak force in particle accelerators, why is this of any surprise?

I was saying this more than 6 years ago. (-1, Offtopic)

ROMRIX (912502) | more than 4 years ago | (#33350986)

On 08/14/04, 12:49 pm, I posted here;
http://www.shellcity.net/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=26602&sid=9c46887527a49714e8b75b85e6ddbc27 [shellcity.net]
scroll down to my post, "romrix" and you will see this;

...why do scientists still involve/include "Time" in their equations when determining or extrapolating theories on relativity such as the proper mass of the universe? In short wouldn't it be prudent to omit time from the equation since "time" doesn't exist? I think, and this is only a theory of mine, that there is no such thing as time. What is referred to as time is, on a molecular/atomic scale, simply gravitational and/or magnetic field enhanced rate of change fluctuations in sub atomic particles. ie; decay rates altered by outside forces...

More info (2, Informative)

PinkyGigglebrain (730753) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351010)

Found another article from 2008 [astroengine.com] that postulates that the Earth/Sun distance may also have an effect on isotope decay rates.

There was also some "fringe" claims back in the early 1990's about how high voltage electrical fields affect alpha decay in isotopes. A quick search turned up a patent [freepatentsonline.com] .

If these claims are substantiated its going to hit more fields than we expect. IIRCC current theory's relating to atomic decay, both classic and quantum, state that the decay rate of unstable atoms is totally random and does not change under any normal conditions. This finding would seem to dispute that, even raising the possibility of accelerating the decay of radioactive atoms into stable one. Might be a way of dealing with the nuclear waste issues if its true and we can figure out how to induce it in the lab. Who knows, once we understand it we might be able to make the effect go the other way and create useful isotopes without needing a reactor.

No mater the case this is interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing more research on this.

Re:More info (1)

FunkyRider (1128099) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351044)

What? Some one has patented nuclear decay? Holy moly mother sxxking dxxk! Rushing to patent planetary rotation!

As the kid's say... (-1, Offtopic)

barfy (256323) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351032)

This is really gross. Seriously. All the marijuana smoking pseudo physics guys on /. are going. "Woah".

This is a really big macro affect, that hadn't been discovered yet, and it effects out understanding of Radioactive decay and Neutrino (flux) action.

This is the kinda stuff that turns people into superheroes, and shit.

This simply doesn't happen every day.

Radioactive decay (1)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351040)

The article says:

A lump of radioactive cesium-137, for example, may decay at a steady rate overall

But is that true? I thought a more correct statement would be that Cesium-137 decays at a particular rate on average. I'd have thought you'd expect some minor fluctuations in decay rates would be expected.

Re:Radioactive decay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33351140)

There is a stunning subtlety here that many fail to pick up on -- namely that the individual events (decays) are isolated. If one were to take measurements on a small enough timescale, one would find X number of decays within a certain time-frame. Upon repeating such a measurement, given the small timescales, the variance of an individual measurement (or standard deviation, if you will) may very well be larger than X. The current model is consistent with this: each event has a certain probability of occurring. Averaging these events out over relatively great periods of time, however, leads to an exceptionally well defined rate constant ( I say rate constant because the model of constant probability predicts an exponential, not linear, decay).

What this article is saying is that they are finding variations inconsistent with such a model of constant probability (ie: that something is actually affecting these probabilities). Under the currently accepted model (ie: high school physics half life model), the amount of averaging that occurs during measurement should, statistically speaking, eliminate the amount of fluctuation they are seeing; furthermore, these fluctuations should be entirely uncorrelated with anything periodic. If this holds up to scrutiny, and environmental effects can be ruled out (temp of equipment, etc.) this could be an incredible discovery.

Keeping time? (1)

rve (4436) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351054)

This is important because the rate of decay is very important not just for antique dating, but also for cancer treatment, time keeping, and the generation of random numbers.

How is radioactive decay used for time keeping?

Re:Keeping time? (1)

miffo.swe (547642) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351124)

Doesn't use radioactive decay (2, Informative)

Gorimek (61128) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351180)

Quote from the article "The principle of operation of an atomic clock is not based on nuclear physics, but rather on the microwave signal that electrons in atoms emit when they change energy levels."

Re:Keeping time? (1)

rve (4436) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351206)

The principle of operation of an atomic clock is not based on nuclear physics, but rather on the microwave signal that electrons in atoms emit when they change energy levels.

You didn't even read the link you copied. Does this mean you are stupid? It just might.

Atomic clocks have nothing to do with radioactive decay.

Re:Keeping time? (1)

CyprusBlue113 (1294000) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351146)

Seriously? You use this site and have never heard of an atomic clock?

Re:Keeping time? (1)

rve (4436) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351172)

Atomic clocks don't use radioactive decay.

the smell test (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351070)

Methinks we've got another outbreak of N-Rays or CNF in the works.

Just a hunch...

You mean... (1)

mbstone (457308) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351106)

You mean the glitch in my PC is really POM dependent?

Very interesting. (1)

miffo.swe (547642) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351108)

I wonder if this happens with an atomic clock sent up into space? If so it would disprove the current belief that tests with atomic clocks in space has proven the theory of relativity.

I find this very intriguing because i do not believe you can bend spacetime. Only time will tell if im right.

Question (1)

bytesex (112972) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351114)

But if it's neutrino's doing this, *and* there's a notable difference to what happens to these experiments, depending on what side of the globe you're on, then the amount and the effect of neutrino's racing through earth, us, and whatnot cannot be in any way insignificant, meaning that they must, somehow, interact with us. You know. Give us cancer and that sort of thing. Make us more heavy, I don't know. Or do neutrino's *only* affect isotope-degradation-experiments ?

Re:Question (3, Interesting)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351268)

The trouble is that the effect is correlated with the 33-day rotation of the solar core. If varying rates of nuclear decay affected cancer rates -- which they could -- the problem with measuring it is the speed with which cancer progresses. Since we can't detect cancer the moment a cell goes rogue, any variability in oncogenesis rates over a 33-day period would be lost in the statistical noise.

If you do figure out a way to detect oncogenesis that precisely, you'll be too busy curing cancer to worry much about solar neutrino flux.

Synchronized (1)

Kohath (38547) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351134)

Is it possible that the decay changes and the solar activity just happen on the same schedule due to some other external force that synchronizes them, or due to some sort of inherent cyclicality that began at a similar instant in the distant past and remains synchronized?

Other than human error I can't think of any other alternate explanations for the correlation.

Re:Synchronized (1)

PinkyGigglebrain (730753) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351556)

Due to the Earths orbit not being a perfect circle the Earth/Sun distance is not constant, it changes during the year. The article linked in the summary mentions the Neutrino flux from the sun, may be responsible. Or it may be something new. Further tests are needed to isolate the effect, if its real. That is what science is all about.

As to you not being able to come up with any alternate explanations, I think Shakespeare had it right in Hamlet "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Measured Decay Rate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33351342)

It would be much better for them to say that the measured decay rate showed variation that could be correlated with the occurrence of solar flare activity. It could be something that affects actual decay rate, or something that affects the measurement of that decay rate. I don't think they have enough evidence to decide yet. It's certainly very interesting, though, and deserves additional research. A phenomenon that could actually result in changes to the decay rate of an isotope could lead to interesting new technology.

Artifact? (1)

grikdog (697841) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351376)

Solar flare, maybe, but seasonal? That sounds like an artifact.

Re:Artifact? (2, Informative)

PinkyGigglebrain (730753) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351504)

Earths distance from the sun isn't constant. On Winter Solstice (Northern Hemi) the Earth is closer to the Sun than the Summer Solstice (Northern Hemi). Being closer Solar effects like the Neutrino flux would be more intense.

Great, now I can never watch 2012 without thinking (1)

roguerx (903772) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351462)

Clearly the core needs more Mg54!

Re:Great, now I can never watch 2012 without think (2, Funny)

roguerx (903772) | more than 4 years ago | (#33351488)

... Mn54. Sigh.
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