Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Nuclear Decay May Vary With Earth-Sun Distance

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the not-so-fast-there dept.

Science 418

KentuckyFC writes "We've long thought that nuclear decay rates are constant regardless of ambient conditions (except in a few special cases where beta decay can be influenced by powerful electric fields). So that makes it hard to explain two puzzling experiments from the 1980s that found periodic variations over many years in the decay rates of silicon-32 and radium-226. Now a new analysis of the raw data says that changes in the decay rate are synchronized with each other and with Earth's distance from the sun. The physicists behind this work offer two theories to explain why this might be happening (abstract). First, some theorists think the sun produces a field that changes the value of the fine structure constant on Earth as its distance from the sun varies. That would certainly affect the rate of nuclear decay. Another idea is that the effect is caused by some kind of interaction with the neutrino flux from the sun's interior which also varies with distance. Take your pick. What makes the whole story even more intriguing is that for years physicists have disagreed over the decay rates of several isotopes such as titanium-44, silicon-32, and cesium-137. Perhaps they took their data at different times of the year?"

cancel ×

418 comments

Carbon Dating (5, Interesting)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793149)

Does this have any ramifications for carbon dating?

Re:Carbon Dating (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793181)

Yes, you can now only date graphite. Diamonds are no longer acceptable dating material.

Re:Carbon Dating (5, Funny)

Vectronic (1221470) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793353)

I dated graphite once, she wasnt very original, kinda flaky, and left dark marks on me... Diamonds, is still playing hard to get though...

Re:Carbon Dating (5, Funny)

The Standard Deviant (869317) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793441)

I take it you don't play with bucky balls then!

Re:Carbon Dating (4, Funny)

mcvos (645701) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793533)

Diamonds are generally best friends, not dating material.

Re:Carbon Dating (5, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793551)

I get your joke, but it presents an opening to state the following little known fact:

Diamonds are not, in fact, forever

Under normal temperature and pressure conditions, diamond is not the most stable form of carbon - graphite is. Using thermodynamic arguments and building a free energy curve, one can show that some fraction of a diamond must decay to graphite in order to achieve a minimum energy state. It does take a very long time for this to happen - geologic time - but even a "long time" is not forever. If you aren't that patient, heat the diamond up to, say, 1500 C to speed things up. Oh, but be sure to do that in the absence of oxygen, because diamond burns just like other forms of carbon.

Some references: [1] [uoguelph.ca] , [2] [everything2.com] , [3] [wikipedia.org]

openings for little known facts (5, Funny)

BitterAndDrunk (799378) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793719)

Are the reasons your extensive diamond knowledge will never come in handy.

Re:Carbon Dating (5, Informative)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793265)

I'd expect not. The variation would be over the course of a year, and carbon dating works on a timescale of centuries to millennia; it would even out. Besides that, we have other clocks to calibrate carbon dating against; you can carbon-date a historic artefact of known age, you can count tree rings or ice layers, stuff like that.

On a timescale of billions of years, however, the luminosity of the Sun has increased substantially, and if that accelerates radioactive decays by some neutrino interaction then the uranium-lead clock would be off and the Earth might be considerably older than we thought.

Re:Carbon Dating (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793563)

Regardless of whether or not this actually impacts on carbon dating, some of our ID friends are going to jump all over this. I remember some guy trying to give a faux-scientific explination of why carbon dating doesn't work. Of course, I was at the bar, drunk, and when I realized he was full of shit my internal translator switched on. His words turned into "blah blah blah blah blah blah".

Re:Carbon Dating (4, Informative)

kmac06 (608921) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793291)

Probably not. The change in decay rate was on the order of .1% (see Fig. 1 of the paper), which is I believe smaller than the error in carbon (or other radioactive) dating. Also, it is only these two isotopes that are mentioned, presumably because most other isotopes tested do not have this sort of periodic effect.

Re:Carbon Dating (4, Interesting)

kmac06 (608921) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793361)

Also, it is only these two isotopes that are mentioned, presumably because most other isotopes tested do not have this sort of periodic effect.

I stand corrected! From the paper:

Although there are hundreds of potentially useful nuclides whose half-lives have been measured, the data from many of the experiments we examined were generally not useful, most often because data were not acquired continuously over sufficiently long time periods.

So the possible ramifications of this increase!

Re:Carbon Dating (5, Interesting)

Bob-taro (996889) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793541)

Also, it is only these two isotopes that are mentioned, presumably because most other isotopes tested do not have this sort of periodic effect.

I wouldn't presume that. The very thing that makes this so interesting is that "the modulations are synchronised with each other and with Earth's distance from the sun." To me, that makes it likely to be a general effect on all radioactive materials. I don't know if this will lead to anything that supports a young earth theory, but it'll be interesting to see what comes from it. The article also mentions:

It turns out, that the notion of that nuclear decay rates are constant has been under attack for some time. In 2006, Jenkins says the decay rate of manganese-54 in their lab decreased dramtically during a solar flare on 13 December.

This is a good example of how many holes there might be in our theories about the universe. We have been making measurements for a few 1000 years in one solar system (mostly just on one planet) and things that we don't see changing, like radioactive decay rates, we consider constant. It's exciting to think how much more there may still be to discover.

Engineering Ramifications? (4, Interesting)

Zenaku (821866) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793887)

This is a good example of how many holes there might be in our theories about the universe. We have been making measurements for a few 1000 years in one solar system (mostly just on one planet) and things that we don't see changing, like radioactive decay rates, we consider constant. It's exciting to think how much more there may still be to discover.

This makes me wonder about the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator [wikipedia.org] power sources on board the Voyager spacecraft, as they are based on the decay of radioactive material. Has our earth-centric understanding of the universe led us to build probes designed to push the boundaries of the solar system and continue into interstellar space, that will gradually lose power the further they get from the sun?

Whoops.

Re:Carbon Dating (1)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793319)

Probably not that much, really. The earth is only 6,000 years old, right? :)

Joking aside:

The cycle is relatively fast according to the graph in TFA - roughly annual. For things measured on a geological timescale this will average out pretty quickly. The important thing is to calibrate the reference accordingly.

Of course, one the cause of the variation is pinned down we'll need to find out if there were any events in the past that might have caused substantial variances - that just might effect things.
=Smidge=

Re:Carbon Dating (2, Funny)

I cant believe its n (1103137) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793331)

Does this have any ramifications for carbon dating?

No, I'd say just go with the original plan of a nice dinner and a walk by the ocean and you will do just fine.

Re:Carbon Dating (3, Funny)

longacre (1090157) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793407)

...and a walk by the ocean and you will do just fine.

But I live in Nebraska, you insensitive clod!

Re:Carbon Dating (5, Funny)

clickety6 (141178) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793343)

Yes - but not enough to account for the difference between Joan Rivers' apparent and actual age.

Re:Carbon Dating (4, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793797)

Yes - but not enough to account for the difference between Joan Rivers' apparent and actual age.

When nine-hundred years old you reach, look as good, you will not.

Re:Carbon Dating (2, Insightful)

Lodragandraoidh (639696) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793411)

I am more concerned about the other end of that - time-keeping --- the communications networks get their time hacks from clocks based upon the decay rate of isotopes (e.g. a cesium clock).

The cool thing is, if this periodical effect is a constant function, then we can adjust our clocks based upon this new knowledge -- making them more accurate over the long haul.

As for carbon dating, assuming what I said was true, I don't see why you could not apply the function to get a more accurate reading - not that carbon dating is that accurate to begin with (from a human standpoint - if you are talking about increasing your accuracy by hours or even days -- that still lays well within the realm of statistical noise when you are talking about millions of years).

Re:Carbon Dating (4, Informative)

Watson Ladd (955755) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793487)

Actually a cesium clock uses the hyperfine structure which is not known to be affected these effects.

Re:Carbon Dating (4, Informative)

paeanblack (191171) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793537)

I am more concerned about the other end of that - time-keeping --- the communications networks get their time hacks from clocks based upon the decay rate of isotopes (e.g. a cesium clock).

Caesium clocks have nothing to do with nuclear decay rates. They measure electron state transition times. You can relax now.

Re:Carbon Dating (4, Informative)

kmac06 (608921) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793569)

You bring up a good point.

The communications networks get their time hacks from clocks based upon the decay rate of isotopes (e.g. a cesium clock).

It's actually based on the frequency of a transition in cesium, but the point is that these transitions are sensitive to the fine structure constant. If some field from the sun is changing that, it should be detectable in atomic clocks.

Re:Carbon Dating (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793717)

Atomic clocks are not based on nuclear decay rates. They are based on transitions involving the atomic electrons. These transitions define a frequency of radiation which is then used to produce the clock.

Re:Carbon Dating (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793783)

Technically the electron hyperfine transitions aren't used to count time, a quartz crystal is.

Seriously : No (4, Informative)

DrYak (748999) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793461)

Does this have any ramifications for carbon dating?

Seriously : No.
For 2 reasons.

I. - Effect on carbon
For now carbon isn't on the list of the elements that seem affected by the distance to the sun.

II. - Not a significant variation.
in TFA, variation seem to be very well correlated with the distance *BUT* these variations are really small : only a small fraction of percent (~0.15%). To cite one of the commenters on TFA's blog thread :

That said, itâ(TM)s not *terribly* unsettling to me; the variations are small (measurable,but small) and to me itâ(TM)s all part of the Wonderful World of the Weird that is QM.

If we discover that carbon is among the elements influenced by the sun too, those mere ~0.15% of variation will be insignificant compared to the skew that happens with varying concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere [wikipedia.org] (see wikipedia's graph of variation) - which already requires that we do calibrations anyway.
(Current carbon dating doesn't extrapolate the age purely by deducing the levels from the decay rate, but instead uses tables where corrections have been inserted based on the carbon dating of thing with known age)

So in short : for now it doesn't have any ramification and anyway it couldn't have any more than we already compensate for.

Re:Carbon Dating (1, Troll)

Nimey (114278) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793549)

Oh, lordy. Another misunderstood bit of science for creationists to throw up as "evidence" for an online argument.

goddidit

Cesium decay (3, Insightful)

mcvos (645701) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793595)

I'm more worried about the effect on Cesium decay. Did we accidentally base our definition of time on a variable rather than a constant?

it would explain a lot (2, Funny)

BitterAndDrunk (799378) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793753)

It would certainly explain why time seems to move slower whenever I'm talking to certain coworkers.

Re:Cesium decay (3, Funny)

mlwmohawk (801821) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793865)

An old programming axiom now looks more true than ever:

"Variables don't and constants aren't"

Carbon Dating? Electromagnetism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793635)

The always 'trustworthy' wikipedia tells me that the fine structure constant is what determines how strongly electromagnetism affects matter. If it were true that proximity to the sun alters that, it seems to me it could have major implications, for, say, a bunch of computer geeks.

Re:Carbon Dating (5, Interesting)

es330td (964170) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793729)

I'm more interested to know if this has any impact on nuclear waste. If decay can be sped up artificially one of the biggest objection points against widescale adoption of nuclear power in the US goes away.

How To Test It (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793155)

First, some theorists think the sun produces a field that changes the value of the fine structure constant on Earth as its distance from the sun varies. That would certainly affect the rate of nuclear decay. Another idea is that the effect is caused by some kind of interaction with the neutrino flux from the sun's interior which also varies with distance. Take your pick.

You left out the best part of the paper, where they propose how to test these theories:

These conclusions can be tested in a number of ways. In addition to repeating long-term decay measurements on Earth, measurements on radioactive samples carried aboard spacecraft to other planets would be very useful since the sample-Sun distance would then vary over a much wider range. The neutrino flux hypothesis might also be tested using samples placed in the neutrino flux produced by nuclear reactors.

Sounds like we could test the latter relatively easily.

Also, Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere H. Jenkins!!!

Re:How To Test It (3, Interesting)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793269)

My question would be, once they discover the cause, can we use that information? First application that comes to mind that I'd love to see is, if we can shorten something's half-life, can that be used to help dispose of radioactive nuclear waste, thereby removing the main objection to nuclear power?

Re:How To Test It (1)

HuguesT (84078) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793397)

The half-life of Uranium 238 (5x10^9 years) will require some serious shortening.

Re:How To Test It (4, Informative)

Watson Ladd (955755) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793509)

Actually the more radioactive something is the faster it decays. Uranium in waste is not the problem, the minor actinides are.

Re:How To Test It (1)

kmac06 (608921) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793627)

Uranium 238 is not radioactive enough to be concerned about (or at least its far down the list of isotopes to be concerned about).

Re:How To Test It (1)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793455)

First application that comes to mind that I'd love to see is, if we can shorten something's half-life, can that be used to help dispose of radioactive nuclear waste, thereby removing the main objection to nuclear power?

If you have a fantastically intense neutrino source handy, go to it. But that probably means a nuclear reactor. In which case reprocessing the stuff and putting it back in the reactor for fuel will probably be more effective.

Re:How To Test It (1)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793399)

We've already sent radioactive samples to other planets. Every deep-space probe carries a radioactive power source, which I believe means a lump of plutonium and a thermocouple to produce a current from its heat. Has the power supply to Voyager been dropping off faster than expected? If so, keep an eye out for the same effect as New Horizons heads out into interstellar space over the next couple of decades.

Re:How To Test It (3, Insightful)

jamie (78724) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793715)

Yeah, kdawson and I have been discussing this. This is an interesting story but of course the research needs to be duplicated and checked, objections need to be raised and addressed and so on.

Cassini is a good example... for the past 11 years it's carried 30 kg of Pu-238 from Earth (1 AU) to Saturn (10 AU), and its decay has been its only source of electrical power. If the Earth's 3% annual variation in distance from the Sun causes a 0.4% variation in the half-life of radioactive silicon, wouldn't the 900% change in Cassini's solar distance caused, at the very least, a head-scratcher for mission control?

So I'm super-skeptical about this.

The hard part about running tests to confirm this alleged effect here on Earth is that it may take years to get convincing results. One might also put a few samples of radioactive materials and sensitive detectors on HEO satellites and get a 0.1% change in solar distance every few days. If there's a detectable difference in radioactive decay it could be statistically significant in a matter of weeks. Rather expensive test, though. My guess is there's a better explanation for the observed effect (seasonal changes in temperature/humidity on the detection equipment maybe) and after a handful of grad students write papers about their inability to replicate the effect, this will be dismissed and filed away. Still interesting though.

Re:How To Test It (1)

EMeta (860558) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793777)

The difference the researchers found was less than .1%. Even if farther in the solar system it was greater than that, it's unlikely to change by enough that the probes' sensors can detect it.

I dunno much.. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793179)

but couldn't this seriously affect carbon dating?

More worring is that the bible bashes could be right and the earth is only 10000 years old and there is a god after all..

***Goes off t pray***

Short answer: no (4, Informative)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793817)

Short answer: no.

Longer answer: nope.

Even longer answer:

1. Carbon isn't one of the isotopes that are affected by this.

2. The fluctuations have a period of about year, so they average out when you measure something over millenia.

3. The fluctuations are very very tiny, waay below one percent even. So basically even if you happened to take one extreme as your value, and in reality it was the opposite extreme, and even with "compound interest" so to speak... worst that could happen is that a 100,000 year old bone turns out to be "only" a bit over 99,000 year old. The creationists still aren't going to like it.

4. The variability in C14 production and distribution are much bigger than this fluctuation, and we learned to deal with those perfectly well. (C14 is constantly produced as neutrons from solar radiation knock off and replace a proton from an N14 atom, turning it into a C14 atom.)

5. The way we deal with those is by calibrating that dating. There's stuff that we already know when it happened, by other means (chronicles, geologic events, etc), and we can see how much C14 is left in stuff from that year. That lets you calibrate your C14 dating pretty damn well.

The last one also tells you why actually #2 is the only one that matters: we already calibrated for long intervals, and such fluctuations were already averaged into the calibration. This new discovery won't affect C14 dating at all. The effect is exactly zero. Null. Nada. Nix.

Of course, that won't stop young-Earth creationists from coming out of the woodwork, and waving yet another thing they don't understand as "proof" that science is wrong and their bible is the literal history of Earth. What else is new? No, seriously.

I figure everyone and everything has their place and role, though. The young-earth creationists' is simply to make everyone else look smart. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it ;)

Silicon-32 Decay Variation (3, Funny)

imstanny (722685) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793183)

...has Pamela Anderson been given the news?

Pioneer Anomaly (4, Interesting)

andyh3930 (605873) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793193)

Could this be the cause of the Pioneer Anomaly [planetary.org] ?

Re:Pioneer Anomaly (0, Redundant)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793207)

I was thinking the same thing.

Re:Pioneer Anomaly (1)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793275)

Could this be the cause of the Pioneer Anomaly [planetary.org] ?

I heavily doubt it, the Pioneer Anomaly is essentially a very small but unexplained forced. I'm not a physicist but I'm not sure how you plan to link radioactive decay rates with small forces.

There are many things we don't know about physics ... yet. Until we have a unified field theory, you're going to have a hard time linking them.

Re:Pioneer Anomaly (1)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793389)

Conservation of momentum?

Radioisotope ejects a particle of non-zero mass at some velocity, and the remainder "recoils" from the ejection.

Farther from sun -> Faster decay -> More mass ejected -> More momentum transferred... provided there is some kind of shield action to make the ejection of radiation directional... like a communication dish facing backwards towards earth.

Is this enough to actually account for the Pioneer effect? No idea. I'll leave that up to the astrophysicists.
=Smidge=

Re:Pioneer Anomaly (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793559)

Well if you can get all the ejected mass to go in the same direction you just might get an effect that just migh tbe measurable with really good instruments.

But as the ejected particles will go in random directions, the net effect will be zero.

Re:Pioneer Anomaly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793749)

Might wanna read the second half of that post, chief.

Re:Pioneer Anomaly (1)

ach1000 (537772) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793417)

I heavily doubt it, the Pioneer Anomaly is essentially a very small but unexplained forced. I'm not a physicist but I'm not sure how you plan to link radioactive decay rates with small forces.

Part of the Pioneer Anomlay is though to be radiation pressure from the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) although there is still an unexplained part. However is the rate of decay varies with the distance from the sun then the radiation pressure from the RTGs will also change (and no longer match our models).

Cool! (4, Interesting)

kmac06 (608921) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793197)

If this turns out to be true, and not a product of some experimental error, it sounds like it could lead to some very interesting new theories. If it's due to neutrino flux, that indicates neutrinos interact much more strongly than previously thought.

I want my money back (0, Redundant)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793199)

Seems that I did all those pesky logarithmic decay problems for Physics 101 in vain....

On a more serious note, how does this influence all those archaeological and geological dating techniques that are based on radioactive decay rates?

Re:I want my money back (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793309)

It doesn't influence them any differently.

Uhhh... (3, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793217)

So the earth may really be 5,000 years old? Shit. I have some apologizing to do on the Creationism vs Evolution yahoo message boards.

Re:Uhhh... (1)

PrescriptionWarning (932687) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793803)

i would think this means the earth may really be much older, like ten duotrigintillion (googol) years. Which given the near infinite size of space would make sense that its nearly infinitely old as well.

Oxymoron of the day (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793223)

the sun produces a field that changes the value of the fine structure constant on Earth

variable constant

Homosexuality and racism (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793227)

Faggots and niggers.

Neutrinos (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793237)

The amount of neutrinos as the distance from Earth to Sun decreases is high!

Building materials far from the sun (1)

Scotteh (885130) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793247)

I wonder what kind of new building materials would be available if we colonized a planet such as Mars or perhaps Pluto or something far from a star. Perhaps the perfect building material is no good on earth because of nuclear decay?

Carbon dating (-1, Redundant)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793251)

I wonder how this would affect carbon dating. I'm guessing that any deviations from previously estimated ages of materials would be minor, but the Young Earth Creationists are sure to latch onto this as a reason why the Earth is only 6,000 years old and scientists don't know anything.

I just have one question (-1, Redundant)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793257)

Can this be twisted in any way to support my contention that modern dating techniques are all wrong and the Earth is actually only 6,000 years old?

dendrochronology! (2, Funny)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793277)

See! I told you that dendrochronology was more accurate!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendrochronology [wikipedia.org]

I pity the man who has to interrupt two scientists arguing about decay rates and tell them they were both right.

General relativity to the rescue? (2, Interesting)

arkham6 (24514) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793327)

Could perhaps the distance between the earth and the sun and the relationship for nuclear decay be in some way effected by the gravitational field fluctuations that occur as well? Time is dilated by gravity, so perhaps are we seeing a further proof of Special relativity?

Or are they simply looking for casual relationships where none actually exist. Perhaps the decay rate relates to the amount of pastafarians on earth.

Re:General relativity to the rescue? (1)

the_one(2) (1117139) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793779)

I'm no physicist but wouldn't the effect of gravity be very, very minor? I admit my first thought after reading the title was that gravity was responsible but i suspect the physicists already considered that and that somehow TFS reflects at least somewhat what the physicists think :)

Did you mean "causal relationships"? (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793891)

The discussion of casual relationships is further up the page, in replies to a post about carbon dating.

Re:General relativity to the rescue? (2, Insightful)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793893)

Could perhaps the distance between the earth and the sun and the relationship for nuclear decay be in some way effected by the gravitational field fluctuations that occur as well? Time is dilated by gravity, so perhaps are we seeing a further proof of Special relativity?

Or are they simply looking for casual relationships where none actually exist. Perhaps the decay rate relates to the amount of pastafarians on earth.

Since the measurement and the material are both in the same location, time dilation would affect them both to the same extent, meaning that the detector would not be able to measure a difference in the half life.

Re:General relativity to the rescue? (1)

mlwmohawk (801821) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793897)

Damn!!! You beat me to that

Re:General relativity to the rescue? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793901)

However our time would be equally effected, we wouldn't see a difference unless observing outside the influence of the Sun's gravity.

Two counter-examples (4, Insightful)

Wills (242929) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793365)

We've long thought that nuclear decay rates are constant regardless of ambient conditions (except in a few special cases where beta decay can be influenced by powerful electric fields).

If you count the presence or absence of observation as part of "ambient conditions", there are two cases where nuclear decay rates are affected by ambient conditions: The quantum Zeno effect [wikipedia.org] and the quantum anti-Zeno effect. [wikipedia.org]

It's a trick! (5, Funny)

NuclearError (1256172) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793383)

They are just trying to force me to buy new updated nuclear engineering text books. I won't fall for it!

Phlogiston (4, Funny)

Migraineman (632203) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793413)

It's the Phlogiston, [wikipedia.org] released by the central furnace of the sun. Doesn't seem quite so funny now, does it Pinkerton?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with my Phrenologist.

according to lamarckism (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793769)

your children won't need the fixes your phrenologist makes to your skull

Re:Phlogiston (1)

The_Chicken_205 (723443) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793827)

I, however, have one with my reverse-phrenologist...

Now, where did I put my painkillers?...

Warp Within the Solar System - Not Advised (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793437)

Clearly, this is why jumping to warp speed within the solar system is not a safe practice.

Fine structure constant (5, Interesting)

kmac06 (608921) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793453)

One possible explanation proposed in this paper is:

In their theory, the Sun produces a scalar field which would modulate the terrestrial value of the electromagnetic fine structure constant EM.

The fine structure constant [wikipedia.org] (about 1/137) has been measured to a whopping 10 significant digits, one of the most precisely measure physical constants. If there is a seasonal variation enough to influence decay rates by .1%, wouldn't this show up in different experiments measuring the fine structure constant?

Re:Fine structure constant (4, Interesting)

Watson Ladd (955755) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793499)

They mention that in the paper. They suggest modifying the electron-proton mass ratio as well as the electromagnetic interaction strength. So we might find out what's going on on October 10.

More efficient fission? (1)

FriendlyPrimate (461389) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793457)

If we could figure out what mechanism is at work here, perhaps in the distant future, we could learn to alter the half-lives of elements. That could lead to 100% utilization of Uranium in nuclear reactors (instead of being left with a bunch of leftover fissionable material that cannot be used), or perhaps even being able to use other fissionable materials other than Uranium as an energy source.

Re:More efficient fission? (1)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793579)

instead of being left with a bunch of leftover fissionable material that cannot be used

Nonsense. Spent fuel plates or rods can be reprocessed into new plates or rods.

Re:More efficient fission? (1)

Punko (784684) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793591)

There would be more fission if we could add neutrinos to make the decay happen more quickly. However, if the addition of neutrinos slows the decay, we can't do much. There isn't much we can do to reduce the existing level of neutrino interaction to try and speed up the decay rates.

creators' newclear power will never decay/fail (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793465)

fear is unprecedented evile's primary weapon. that, along with deception & coercion, helps most of us remain (unwittingly?) dependent on its' greed/fear/ego based hired goons' agenda. Most of yOUR dwindling resources are being squandered on the 'war', & continuation of the billionerrors stock markup FraUD/pyramid scheme. nobody ever mentions the real long term costs of those debacles in both life & the notion of prosperity, not to mention the abuse of the consciences of those of us who still have one. see you on the other side of it. the lights are coming up all over now. conspiracy theorists are being vindicated. some might choose a tin umbrella to go with their hats. the fairytail is winding down now. let your conscience be yOUR guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. there are still some choices. if they do not suit you, consider the likely results of continuing to follow the corepirate nazi hypenosys story LIEn, whereas anything of relevance is replaced almost instantly with pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking propaganda or 'celebrity' trivia 'foam'. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on yOUR brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.

http://news.google.com/?ncl=1216734813&hl=en&topic=n
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/31/opinion/31mon1.html?em&ex=1199336400&en=c4b5414371631707&ei=5087%0A
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/29/world/29amnesty.html?hp
http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/06/02/nasa.global.warming.ap/index.html
http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/weather/06/05/severe.weather.ap/index.html
http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/weather/06/02/honore.preparedness/index.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/opinion/01dowd.html?em&ex=1212638400&en=744b7cebc86723e5&ei=5087%0A
http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/06/05/senate.iraq/index.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/17/washington/17contractor.html?hp
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/world/middleeast/03kurdistan.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin
http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/080708/cheney_climate.html
http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20080805/pl_politico/12308;_ylt=A0wNcxTPdJhILAYAVQms0NUE

is it time to get real yet? A LOT of energy is being squandered in attempts to keep US in the dark. in the end (give or take a few 1000 years), the creators will prevail (world without end, etc...), as it has always been. the process of gaining yOUR release from the current hostage situation may not be what you might think it is. butt of course, most of US don't know, or care what a precarious/fatal situation we're in. for example; the insidious attempts by the felonious corepirate nazi execrable to block the suns' light, interfering with a requirement (sunlight) for us to stay healthy/alive. it's likely not good for yOUR health/memories 'else they'd be bragging about it? we're intending for the whoreabully deceptive (they'll do ANYTHING for a bit more monIE/power) felons to give up/fail even further, in attempting to control the 'weather', as well as a # of other things/events.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=weather+manipulation&btnG=Search
http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&q=video+cloud+spraying

dictator style micro management has never worked (for very long). it's an illness. tie that with life0cidal aggression & softwar gangster style bullying, & what do we have? a greed/fear/ego based recipe for disaster. meanwhile, you can help to stop the bleeding (loss of life & limb);

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/28/vermont.banning.bush.ap/index.html

the bleeding must be stopped before any healing can begin. jailing a couple of corepirate nazi hired goons would send a clear message to the rest of the world from US. any truthful look at the 'scorecard' would reveal that we are a society in decline/deep doo-doo, despite all of the scriptdead pr ?firm? generated drum beating & flag waving propaganda that we are constantly bombarded with. is it time to get real yet? please consider carefully ALL of yOUR other 'options'. the creators will prevail. as it has always been.

corepirate nazi execrable costs outweigh benefits
(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

as there are no benefits, just more&more death/debt & disruption. fortunately there's an 'army' of light bringers, coming yOUR way. the little ones/innocents must/will be protected. after the big flash, ALL of yOUR imaginary 'borders' may blur a bit? for each of the creators' innocents harmed in any way, there is a debt that must/will be repaid by you/us, as the perpetrators/minions of unprecedented evile, will not be available. 'vote' with (what's left in) yOUR wallet, & by your behaviors. help bring an end to unprecedented evile's manifestation through yOUR owned felonious corepirate nazi glowbull warmongering execrable. some of US should consider ourselves somewhat fortunate to be among those scheduled to survive after the big flash/implementation of the creators' wwwildly popular planet/population rescue initiative/mandate. it's right in the manual, 'world without end', etc.... as we all ?know?, change is inevitable, & denying/ignoring gravity, logic, morality, etc..., is only possible, on a temporary basis. concern about the course of events that will occur should the life0cidal execrable fail to be intervened upon is in order. 'do not be dismayed' (also from the manual). however, it's ok/recommended, to not attempt to live under/accept, fauxking nazi felon greed/fear/ego based pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking hypenosys.

consult with/trust in yOUR creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/03/bush.veto/index.html

whilst demanding/extorting billions to paint more targets on the bigger kids;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/12/bush.war.funding/index.html

& pretending that it isn't happening here;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article3086937.ece
all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

(yOUR elected) president al gore (deciding not to wait for the much anticipated 'lonesome al answers yOUR questions' interview here on /.) continues to attempt to shed some light on yOUR foibles. talk about reverse polarity;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3046116.ece

Guess I'll need even less nuclear fuel... (3, Funny)

mdm-adph (1030332) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793471)

...stored on the interstellar star voyager I'm building, then.

Should be able to pack a few more women on-board that way.

Re:Guess I'll need even less nuclear fuel... (2, Funny)

Digital Vomit (891734) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793577)

The one time I have mod points and there's no +1 Giggitty option. :-(

Applications... (1)

geogob (569250) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793477)

Would be interesting to see if this can be reproduced artificially. Maybe it could lead to new ways of dealing with nuclear waste, by accelerating its decay rate. On the other hand, the effect seem to be so small that, even if artificially amplifying it, it would be of little use.

We're still very far from that point, but it opens up interesting new perspectives.

Ntew Year binge to blame (1)

manojen (612855) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793485)

Nobody mentions a very stark correlation evident from the figure. The peak always occurs around the New Years, everybody is having a gala time, the experimenters, the earth, the sun, neutrinos, why should alpha (fine structure constant) be left behind? Folks, believe me, its the celebrations that's to be blamed!

Fundamental constant (3, Funny)

culu (975903) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793525)

First, some theorists think the sun produces a field that changes the value of the fine structure constant on Earth as its distance from the sun varies.

If this is true, we get some fundamental variables besides $_, @_, etc.

Dark matter epicycles! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793599)

Maybe it's the perfectly spherical shell of dark matter which supposedly surrounds our galaxy, or maybe it's the invisible epicycles of the sun, or maybe it's Al Gore's cologne.

Couldn't possibly be our understanding of gravity, or even electromagnetic waves, is imperfect.

This year's flying by (1)

da007 (242994) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793607)

The obvious solution is that time speeds up when we get closer to the sun due to the higher gravatational field. This would explain why the days seem to drag by right before Christmas. We're further away which also makes everything colder. *

* Time slowing down at Christmas is realative to how far along you are on your shopping list.

my pick (2, Insightful)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793615)

I use my own Occam's blade to cut off the first one and pick the second one.

Crazy Physicists... (1)

siwelwerd (869956) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793675)

that changes the value of the fine structure constant

I do not think that word means what you think it means...

But the data is awful (4, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793691)

But... look at the data [arxivblog.com] . That correlation is *terrible*. The phase is off.

Also, note that since the perihelion is right around Jan 1, only about eleven days after solstace-- this data equally well correlates with season.

Radioactive waste (3, Interesting)

IceCreamGuy (904648) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793697)

So could this possibly lead to a way to "drain" radioactive waste by exposing it to a high neutrino flux? Or is it the other way around... does a higher flux slow it down and we're already near the limit of the highest speed of decay?

Yup. That seems straigthforward enough. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793699)

Perhaps some heretofore undetected/unconsidered form of solar radiation is affecting the decay rates.

Most of the time, the differences are minimal, so we consider them to be constant. Very few parameters in the universe are truly constants.

Since it may happen inside a field (1)

bytesex (112972) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793733)

Wouldn't you expect different decay rates on the poles and the equator ?

Careful with the conclusions (1)

archeopterix (594938) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793751)

Hey, correlation is not causation. It might be that the variations in the decay pull and push the Earth closer and farther from the sun.

The environment varies the experimenters... (1)

KasperMeerts (1305097) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793765)

...but not the subject of the experiment.

I read for example about a planet orbiting a pulsar whose orbital period was half of Earth's. Turns out it was a misconfiguration involving the Doppler effect.

I'll need more evidence than this horrible correlation. Something involving deep space probes would be better. But if it turns out to be true, then this is HUGE!

Synchronized to r^2, not r (4, Interesting)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793823)

This graph [arxivblog.com] seems to indicate that the correlation is between the decay rate and the radius of Earth's orbit squared, not just r.

Could it be that the correlation between decay rates is with Earth's orbital velocity [wikipedia.org] , acceleration, or dTheta/dT (rate of change of the Earth/Sun vector due to Earth's elliptical orbit)?

Additionally, there seems to be a phase shift between peak r^2 and peak decay rates with the decay rate peak seemingly correlated with our peak acceleration toward the sun.

"The Gods Themselves" (3, Interesting)

xonar (1069832) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793843)

This reminds me of Asimov's book "The Gods Themselves" [wikipedia.org] where the exchange of electrons between parallel universes, creating limitless and wasteless energy, increases the strength of the nuclear force [wikipedia.org] in our universe. Thus making our huge sun (by parallel universe standards) likely to explode/implode.

Subject to change are all things..... (1)

cuteface (450372) | more than 5 years ago | (#24793851)

so said the Buddha. So is the Planck constant really constant as well? Would it be reasonable to believe that its value actually varies at different time of the universe? Just shooting off my head. ;-)

Duh.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24793911)

If you don't dry your isotopes out in the sun, of course they won't last long.. I guess it's just another slow news day.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...