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Radioactive Decay Apparently Influenced By the Sun

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the action-at-a-distance dept.

Science 267

quax writes "In school you probably learned that the decay rate of radioactive matter is solely determined by the halftime specific to the element. There is no environmental factor that can somehow tweak this process. At least there shouldn't be. Now a second study confirmed previous findings that the decay rate of some elements seems to be under the subtle and mysterious influence of the sun. As of now there is no theoretical explanation for this strange effect buried in the decay rate data."

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267 comments

Cue the young earth creationists (-1, Flamebait)

hierofalcon (1233282) | about 2 years ago | (#41200601)

Flame war starting in 3... 2... 1...

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200605)

If it happens, you were the catalyst.

How about just shutting the fuck up about if for once?

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201947)

This. 99% of the young earth creation comments I see are from geek atheists, most of whom, let's be honest, are only slightly less ignorant about whole world of science as a dippy creationist.

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (4, Funny)

Bryansix (761547) | about 2 years ago | (#41200615)

0...-1...-2...-3

Where are we going with this?

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (2, Funny)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | about 2 years ago | (#41200675)

Shhh... creationists don't understand negative integers. Or even zero.

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (1, Offtopic)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | about 2 years ago | (#41200877)

Sure they do, but their negative numbers only go to -3988 (skipping 0 of course).

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 2 years ago | (#41201657)

-4004, you insensitive Darwinist clod!

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201705)

Its good you bought that up, I was afraid that even if the science was uncomfortable we had to look into it anyway.

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200957)

Well, considering the Sun didn't exist until the fourth day of creation, and dry land existed on the third, radioactive decay could have done anything from day negative infinity till day four.

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (1)

kingramon0 (411815) | about 2 years ago | (#41201193)

I am not a young-earth creationist, but you should read more carefully.

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

God said "Let there be light" on the first day (after having created the heavens and the earth), but since the point of view of that verse is from the Earth's surface ("and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters"), that could just mean that "Let there be light" is just the first time sunlight has been able to reach the surface of the Earth, not necessarily that it was the creation of the sun.

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201287)

so according to this, god had to see light to understand that it is good
that means he had no prior knowledge, no prior understanding :)

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (1)

eugene ts wong (231154) | about 2 years ago | (#41201385)

How could it mean that? The sun is a light emitter. Why couldn't it just mean that light is different from the darkness and the light emitter.

Isn't it possible to invent "wet" and "dry" before inventing water?

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (1)

kingramon0 (411815) | about 2 years ago | (#41201749)

I'm not sure I understand what you're asking, but I'll try to explain what I meant.

If the early earth had an atmosphere that was dense with ash or debris (from heavy volcanic activity and impacts with other objects), then it may have been so thick that sunlight could not reach the surface. When He said "Let there be light," it may have just been when the atmosphere cleared up and allowed light to reach the surface. Separating the day and the night just describes the rotation of the earth, but the fact that light only hits the surface when it faces the sun would not have been evident from that vantage point until the sky cleared enough to let light through.

I think that makes way more sense than saying he created the sun after creating the earth. It sounds like you're suggesting it could mean he created the sun first, but created sunlight after, but that also makes no sense to me. I probably misunderstood you though. Care to clarify?

Re:Cue the young earth creationists (0)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 2 years ago | (#41201151)

Why? They never had trouble denying reality *before* this hit the news.

Repost of (4, Informative)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | about 2 years ago | (#41200611)

Re:Repost of (4, Informative)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | about 2 years ago | (#41200751)

It's not a repost. That story was about predicting solar flares based on the hypothesis presented here.

They were posted out of order, certainly, and this one is about 2 weeks too late, and offers no value over the previous story.

But this is a better article about the underlying experiments, even though the website waited until today to push it out. Slow news day at WaveWatching.net? Or is this just pimping an old story for blog views?

It's worse than a dupe, and you calling it a repost does not properly insult the report.

Re:Repost of (2)

michelcolman (1208008) | about 2 years ago | (#41201253)

Actually, they were posted in the correct order but then the sun messed up space-time so that they arrived out of order.

Re:Repost of (1)

quax (19371) | about 2 years ago | (#41200781)

Ups, wan't aware of thtat when I submitted this. At least there is some additional info in this article i.e. the more detailed graphs from the research and the video. Although not the most captivating speaker the presentation adds interesting details to extend that they think they see patterns specific to the core of the sun.

If this pans out it could actually open up the possibility of neutrino telescopy. That'll be extremely exciting.

Not enough (-1, Troll)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 2 years ago | (#41200613)

So first it's faster than light neutrinos and now solar influence on radioactive decay.

Sorry but I don't need this on Slashdot. Fox News has all the trash science I'll ever need.

Re:Not enough (5, Insightful)

Bryansix (761547) | about 2 years ago | (#41200665)

Step 1) See science I don't agree with
Step 2) Find no logical arguments to shoot it down
Step 3) resort to ridicule and call it a day

The logical argument to shoot it down. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200691)

The data has no causation therefore it remains unproven that it is the sun causing this.

End.

Re:The logical argument to shoot it down. (5, Insightful)

quax (19371) | about 2 years ago | (#41200809)

The hypothesis is that a yet unknown weak force interaction triggered be the sun's neutrino's is responsible for this.

It'll hardly be the first time that a scientifically observed phenomenon has no current theoretical explanation.

If yours was the way science operates we'd still operate out of caves.

Re:The logical argument to shoot it down. (0)

dmbasso (1052166) | about 2 years ago | (#41201755)

If yours was the way science operates we'd still operate out of caves.

Well, most people behave like this AC, and that's the reason science is slow in accepting fundamental changes. To be skeptical is obviously necessary, but what actually happens is people start dismissing evidence without the proper analysis.
One example of what I'm saying is the "cold fusion fiasco"... after 20 years of ridiculing Fleischmann and Pons, and all those who tried to investigate the effect, now there is undeniable proof that a strange/anomalous heat effect exists. Yet, most people just jump to the conclusion that it is a scam, without bothering to analyze the claims. If this post receive some reply, it will probably be to assert how stupid I am to believe in this snake oil. Please, go on, be my guest. ;)

Re:The logical argument to shoot it down. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201509)

That isn't how science works. If you can prove that there is no causation then it would be the end. Absence of proof is not proof of the contradictory. You used false logic.

Re:Not enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201393)

Step 1) See science I don't agree with

Step 2) Find no logical arguments to shoot it down

Step 3) resort to ridicule and call it a day

Why don't you tell us how much did the Koch brothers paid you to post that?

Re:Not enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200687)

Why trash? Is it unfathomable that maybe slight variations in the gravitational force resulting from the proximity to the Sun are affecting how it is tugging on the subatomic particles and ever so slightly modifying the rate of decay?

Re:Not enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200721)

If this is true I'm betting it's because of cosmic rays rather than the unwavering gravitational force. Seriously, when something is 8 light minutes away the shape isn't going to affect the gravitational force it exerts on distant objects.

Re:Not enough (2)

morethanapapercert (749527) | about 2 years ago | (#41201027)

Oh I dunno about that. It's been well established that large (in the astronomical sense) and dense rotating objects exhibit Frame Dragging [wikipedia.org] . I believe that contractions and expansions of a stellar object are a possible source of Gravitational Waves [wikipedia.org]

Putting those two effects together, it is easy to imagine that some change in the make up of the sun as it evolves can also affect the nature of the gravity well around it.

Re:Not enough (2)

ocean_soul (1019086) | about 2 years ago | (#41200755)

If this is true, and there is actual causation and not only correlation (both these things are not clear to me at the moment), my first hypotheses would probably have to do with the quantum Zeno effect, rather than gravity. Although an explanation using gravity variations is also a valid hypotheses. But I agree that speculative hypes like this do not belong on /.

(disclaimer: PhD in physics, working in space-science)

Re:Not enough (4, Informative)

quax (19371) | about 2 years ago | (#41200833)

Yeah, because slashdot always only carries peer reviewed research from top notch Ivy League universities.

Oh wait a second ... these papers are actually peer-reviewed results from Ivy League research universities.

Re:Not enough (2)

Sulphur (1548251) | about 2 years ago | (#41201091)

So first it's faster than light neutrinos and now solar influence on radioactive decay.

Sorry but I don't need this on Slashdot. Fox News has all the trash science I'll ever need.

News cycle linked to neutrino cycle. Film at 10:45.

Re:Not enough (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201967)

The neutrino folks published and asked people to check out what was going on. This is actually a second study of the decay rate that backs up the original. This is science.

Science is NOT just whatever happens to be in the tiny head of Slashdot user 20178.

You are just as bad as any creationist, you dumb dogfucking shit sack.

This is exciting (4, Insightful)

cunniff (264218) | about 2 years ago | (#41200623)

Possibly the most exciting physics news of the year. Although the detection of the Higgs boson was big, it mostly confirmed what existing theory predicted. Interesting, important - but, to some physics, perhaps a bit boring.

If further measurements continue to verify this effect, there are some very interesting new physics to discover.

Re:This is exciting (1)

cunniff (264218) | about 2 years ago | (#41200627)

but, to some physics, perhaps a bit boring.

Err, make that, "but, to some *physicists", perhaps a bit boring."

Re:This is exciting (2)

garglblaster (459708) | about 2 years ago | (#41200867)

I second that. Here we are looking at more sophisticated effects of the weak force by solar neutrinos. This is exciting indeed!

Re:This is exciting (4, Informative)

volsung (378) | about 2 years ago | (#41200891)

This argument about solar influence on nuclear decay rates has been going on for a few years now. The experimental issues are hard to interpret, because you have to be able to rule out external influences on your counting apparatus. It is extremely hard when the period of your signal matches the orbit of the Earth, which aliases all sorts periodic behavior that has nothing to do with new physics. There are seasonal variations in temperature, cosmic rays, the voltage delivered by the power company, foot traffic near your lab, etc, etc. Verifying that none of these things can possibly influence your results is what takes all the time.

A semi-random selection of earlier papers on the subject:

"Experimental investigation of changes in beta-decay count rate of radioactive elements" (1999):
Claiming 24 hour and 27 day periodicities in the decay rates of cobalt-60 and cesium-137
http://arxiv.org/pdf/hep-ex/9907008v1.pdf [arxiv.org]

"Power Spectrum Analyses of Nuclear Decay Rates" (2010):
Reports of an annual periodicity in the decay rates of chlorine-36, silicon-32, manganese-56, and radium-226.
http://arxiv.org/abs/1007.0924 [arxiv.org]

"Solar Influence on Nuclear Decay Rates: Constraints from the MESSENGER Mission" (2011)
A study of cesium-137 decay rates on a spacecraft going to Mercury show no change as the spacecraft travelled closer to the Sun.
http://arxiv.org/abs/1107.4074 [arxiv.org]

"Search for the time dependence of the 137Cs decay constant" (2012)
Cesium-137 decays in a detector underground (shielding it from most cosmic rays) show no significant periodicity, with limits much lower than claimed signals.
http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.3662 [arxiv.org]

"Power Spectrum Analysis of LMSU (Lomonosov Moscow State University) Nuclear Decay-Rate Data: Further Indication of r-Mode Oscillations in an Inner Solar Tachocline" (2012)
Studies of strontium-90 decays show a variety of periodic variations, ranging from 0.26 per year to 3.96 per year.
http://arxiv.org/abs/1203.3107 [arxiv.org]

This list goes on and on. There is hardly any consensus on the issue.

Re:This is exciting (1)

Celarent Darii (1561999) | about 2 years ago | (#41200931)

Many thanks for the very interesting links.

We learned that decay rates were random, but with a certain statistical mean.

Often in science 'random' is a word for 'we don't know yet how'. Finding out how is really the fun part. Now that there is some sort of link to solar radiation and decay rates, we can be closer to seeing how decay rates might not be so random but even predictable.

Re:This is exciting (4, Informative)

volsung (378) | about 2 years ago | (#41201063)

I think the problem is that the link is not yet established. What we have is a link between count rates in a detector observing a sample of some isotope and time of year, which no one disputes (we reasonably assume they are not making up their data). The argument is whether you can make the inductive leap to the claim that radioactive decay rates depend on the amount of solar radiation. As shown in some of those papers above, other experiments don't (like the test with the MESSENGER probe) show the effect you would expect if solar radiation were the cause.

Even if we do find there is an external influence on decay rates (which would be pretty nifty), that definitely does not imply that the times of individual radioactive decays are predictable.

Re:This is exciting (2)

quax (19371) | about 2 years ago | (#41201007)

It seems to me there is enough accumulated oddity to follow up with some space based measurements in order to get a better signal to noise ration and eliminate some possible systematic error sources.

Re:This is exciting (4, Insightful)

volsung (378) | about 2 years ago | (#41201083)

Another relatively easy control would be to conduct simultaneous experiments in the northern and southern hemispheres. Many external effects (like temperature) would be 180 degrees out of phase, while the distance from the Sun will be essentially the same for the two experiments.

Re:This is exciting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201215)

Another relatively easy control would be to conduct simultaneous experiments in the northern and southern hemispheres. Many external effects (like temperature) would be 180 degrees out of phase, while the distance from the Sun will be essentially the same for the two experiments.

Best suggestion I've seen on here yet. I'm pretty sure that temperature is what is being detected here, and your idea would definitely prove / disprove it.

Re:This is exciting (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#41201993)

better experiment: send a spacecraft so much closer that any solar effect on decay rates swamps the other possible effects.

Oh. Oh no. (1, Flamebait)

Sasayaki (1096761) | about 2 years ago | (#41200625)

My first though: "Oh that is so cool! Wow, we're learning more about our world every day. I welcome this new discovery and hope to learn more!"

My second thought: "... Oh God. The creationists. The *creationists*. They're going to read this (repeated through a third party "science" website like Answers in Genesis), throw back their heads and shout, "Therefore, Jesus! Therefore JESUS! Science is wrong again! The Earth really is 6,000 years old! Radiometric dating is peudoscience invented by liberals and now we have proof!"

Fucking Christ.

Re:Oh. Oh no. (4, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#41200693)

I'm not worried. If this effect is based on solar neutrino flux or some such thing, what would that have to be to change radio carbon dating to give an earth age of 6000 years vs 4.5 billion? And then, what would the effect of the level of solar activity resulting in that neutrino flux do to life on earth? Probably fry it to a cinder.

If the effect exists, it is probably operating on the parts per million level. Which wouldn't do more than knock a few years off the age of Lucy [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Oh. Oh no. (2)

u17 (1730558) | about 2 years ago | (#41200741)

Look at the graphs in the article. The residual variations in the rate of decay are proportional to 1/R^2, where R is the Sun-Earth distance. Compare that to the force of gravity, F=GMm/R^2, where GMm is constant. Perhaps the Sun is helping to pull the atoms apart via inflicted gravitational force on a very slight level. It doesn't have to be anything fancy like neutrino flux.

Re:Oh. Oh no. (4, Insightful)

NF6X (725054) | about 2 years ago | (#41200881)

Perhaps the Sun is helping to pull the atoms apart via inflicted gravitational force on a very slight level.

Then please explain how solar tides affect the decay rate while much stronger lunar tides do not.

Re:Oh. Oh no. (4, Funny)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 2 years ago | (#41202013)

The sun has brighter gravity.

Re:Oh. Oh no. (4, Informative)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#41200989)

Every flux (including neutrino and gravity) is proportional to 1/R^2 because we live in 3D. If gravity affected radioactive decay we would've noticed that on our space RTGs. Neutrinos are the most likely answer.

Re:Oh. Oh no. (1)

yndrd1984 (730475) | about 2 years ago | (#41201717)

It doesn't matter. Anything [icr.org] that gives them an opportunity [icr.org] to attack science will be used. It doesn't matter if it makes sense.

Re:Oh. Oh no. (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | about 2 years ago | (#41201015)

Well, you certainly seem obsessed with it, alright.

Re:Oh. Oh no. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201133)

See, even you can't really be happy without his influence in your life. Without him you could not adequately express your frustration.

Re:Oh. Oh no. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41202003)

I don't get it. How Does creationism figure into this at all?

This "here come the creationists!" is getting to be the cry wolf of the amateur science crowd.

The religious fundies bash since day in day out anyway.

radioactive decay is just a theory! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200635)

god did it!

Halftime? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200637)

halftime specific to the element

Some of the heavier elements even have a musical program.

(I think you mean half-life. Nice job, editors.)

Re:Halftime? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200649)

Yet the NFL replacement referees during the New York Giants-New England Patriots gamed called it half-life. After half-life, they awarded a home run to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Claim not new (4, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about 2 years ago | (#41200639)

The original claim dates from 2008 and 2009. (Original paper here- http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.3283 [arxiv.org] ). While TFA claims that this has been confirmed, the group confirming this shares many of the same authors http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.0205 [arxiv.org] . This still has not yet been confirmed by a genuinely independent group. Also the claims still only focus on two specific isotopes Si-32 and Ra-226. One thing worth emphasizing is that this has no bearing on things like the age of the Earth or other uses of radiometric dating. The isotopes are not used generally for radiometric dating and the percentage change in decay rates being observed is tiny. Moreover, for many of the sorts of things we do radiometric dating we have multiple distinct methods that cross-check each other. For example, when doing zircon dating, one can date from both the decay of U-238 and that of U-235 which use distinct decay changes. This may turn out to be some very interesting thing going on, but as of right now the impact is limited even if it is correct.

Re:Claim not new (4, Informative)

Mt._Honkey (514673) | about 2 years ago | (#41200725)

Yeah. There were also come claims with Cl-36, but multiple measurements have the effect in opposite directions and different magnitudes (http://arxiv.org/abs/1208.4357 [arxiv.org] , so they seem more likely to be due to instrumentation effects than real differences

This is one of those "extraordinary evidence" things, and we aren't there yet. Annual variation is always suspect because experimental conditions can change subtly with the weather.

Re:Claim not new (4, Interesting)

quax (19371) | about 2 years ago | (#41200735)

Well, this is a different data series so I still think it's fair to say that the second study confirms the original finding, although further completely independent confirmation is highly desirable.

Also noteworthy: This apparently only affects beta decay i.e. it seem to hint at an unknown reaction involving the weak force only.

The video goes into some more detail, revealing that they found periodicities that are typical for the core of the sun, only neutrino interaction could account for that.

Temperature variations in measurements (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200645)

I would bet that the instrumentation used to acquire these samples over the years has a temperature dependence in its measurement accuracy. Yes, temperature does fluctuate slightly relative to distance from sun even at these distances. Another example of instrumentation measurement errors being presented as some "mystical" physical phenomena.

Not really surprising... (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about 2 years ago | (#41200647)

makes sense, there's probably something from the sun that interacts with a nucleus inducing a slightly higher rate of decay.

If you think about what a particle accelerator is, we basically fling particles at other particles and induce a (in many cases artificial or otherwise bizarre) form of radioactive decay. If you figure every particle has some interaction cross section with gamma rays from the sun you will then have an observable effect as the sun cycles. You can probably produce the same effect with a laser (or equivalent for the appropriate range), or a particle accelerator if it's a particle- mass interaction, but the effect is really small, so no one noticed or cared before.

Of course the reason is that it's not 'explained' or with a good theory is that you'd have to figure out what specifically is the interaction, and whether or not it's nucleus specific (probably).

Re:Not really surprising... (1)

mdenham (747985) | about 2 years ago | (#41200699)

A high neutrino-interaction cross section for these isotopes, perhaps? (Keeping in mind that the normal interaction cross section for neutrinos is on the order of 10 attobarns, something closer to 1 femtobarn would be considered "high" here.)

Re:Not really surprising... (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about 2 years ago | (#41201009)

Not even necessarily a high cross section, there *is* a cross section after all, this is just a really really really tiny magnitude effect.

Re:Not really surprising... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200707)

What could that something from the Sun be? Gravity is the only thing that comes to mind. After all, light from the Sun probably doesn't reach the experimental set-up that they have.

Re:Not really surprising... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200729)

What could that something from the Sun be?

Cosmic rays. We already know that firing high-speed protons at nucleii can affect them.

Re:Not really surprising... (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about 2 years ago | (#41200903)

Any sort of EM radiation or neutrino's would be the obvious choice. We know neutrino cross sections pretty well *I think*, I was an 'atomic' (as in electrons) rather than 'nuclear' (as in protons and neutrons) physicist so I I'm not 100% sure on that, and could probably account for neutrino's already - but maybe not.

Gravity from the sun is unlikely to be noticeably cyclical this far away. (Any gravity changes from moving mass on the sun would be apparent locally of course, but I don't think the total mass of the sun isn't increasing and decreasing cyclically). You'd also have an effect from the moon, since it's gravity has a noticeable impact on earth.

Re:Not really surprising... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200767)

Neutrinos. The sun produces a huge amount of them. It makes sense that they interact more with heavy nuclei compared to lighter nuclei. I'm willing to bet that if it's possible to create a neutrino shield somehow, there's no such time as half-life. Meaning, half-life is a function of the amount of neutrinos the sun generates.

Re:Not really surprising... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200835)

Sir_Sri is arguing against an opposing position. This behavior tends to be a barrier to progress. So what if the current dating methods are found to be invalid?

Re:Not really surprising... (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about 2 years ago | (#41201001)

Huh?

You mean what if the current nuclear decay dating methods are found to be invalid? They aren't, you can actually see from the first graph they plot, the cycle is minuscule in magnitude. Carbon 14 has a half life of something like 5730 +/- 40 years by the old measurements (see wikipedia). This make it more like (and I haven't done the math so I'm being illustrative rather than exact her) 5750 +/- 10 on a 10 year cycle +/- 5 randomness.

This is where interesting physics happens. You had a number (5730 +/-40) someone figured out how to get that error down to something like +/- 0.4 and we discovered that within the range of +/-40 there was actually a cycle that we couldn't see before.

Except they did this with Cs137. 137Cs has a half life of (From NIST, http://www.nist.gov/pml/data/halflife-html.cfm): 11018.3 ± 9.5 d. Which is 30 years and change, give or take 10 days. It looks like this was being able to take measurements within something like +/- 0.15 days (I think), and there's a cycle in the range of 1 day, maybe 2, somewhere in there, and they've eliminated 70 or 80% of the 9.5 day uncertainty. I'm too lazy to try and do maths on my labour day weekend.

Re:Not really surprising... (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#41201323)

It may make some logical sense, but this is a mechanism that has not been previously observed and largely discounted as insignificant by experimenters in the past.

The one thing that is known to be coming from the Sun that pretty much can't be isolated from other items (by going deep underground and trying to rule out other environmental factors) would be neutrinos and neutrino flux. This was mentioned above, but there are some interesting implications if that has some significant impact.

Neutrinos are usually produced in nuclear reactions (like what happens in the Sun when Hydrogen is being changed in the Helium through fusion). While they also get produced in other nuclear reactors, the Sun is by far and away the largest nuclear reactor that would have any sort of impact upon us. Because of the much more vastly larger distances to even other stars, the neutrino flux from other stars would be relatively insignificant. The only other possible source for neutrinos that would have any sort of significance on this scale would be the super massive black hole at the center of our galaxy.... if it was in the process of "eating" several stars (thus causing fusion events just on the outside of the event horizon and emitting those neutrinos as well). A "nearby" supernova would also produce a similar kind of spike in neutrinos. All of this is something that is actively monitored right now with neutrino detectors [wikipedia.org] usually found in deep mineshafts that have been taken over by scientific laboratories from abandoned mines.

It may be possible (I think it would be highly unlikely) that some other kind of nuclear process happening in the Sun or perhaps some other unobserved phenomena could be causing this to happen, but extraordinary theories require extraordinary evidence. Wishing for leprechaun and unicorns to explain your experiments doesn't seem like a logical tactic for a real scientist to be making.

There is enough to this concept of radioactivity variation that it certainly should be investigated further... if only to bury this idea for once and all or to confirm the issue. The Sun has been a source of several discoveries in the past, including the beginning of radio astronomy, the discovery of Helium, and several other phenomena. That it might be the source of discovery for additional scientific investigation is certainly possible.

The one thing you can do to a scientist to make them pay attention is to say "that is a weird result". Weird in this case being something that falls outside of current theories, which the thought that radioactivity could be influenced from outside environmental factors of any kind at all is certainly weird.

Lies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200701)

False! When Chuck Norris heard of the radioactive waste storage problem he began to consume copious amounts of radioactive waste at each meal. The enviromental conditions in his mighty digestive tract were able to accelerate the decay of the radioactive material. The waste produced from Chuck Norris is no longer dangerously radioactive.

Re:Lies (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about 2 years ago | (#41201049)

False! When Chuck Norris heard of the radioactive waste storage problem he began to consume copious amounts of radioactive waste at each meal. The enviromental conditions in his mighty digestive tract were able to accelerate the decay of the radioactive material. The waste produced from Chuck Norris is no longer dangerously radioactive.

And lots of entropy misplaced?

Re:Lies (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201161)

No, it's just that Chuck is now full of radioactive shit as well as the bible-bashing kind.

Mars? (2)

WindBourne (631190) | about 2 years ago | (#41200715)

I wonder if Mars was subjected to more radiation if its core would spin more?

Neutrinos? (4, Interesting)

rrohbeck (944847) | about 2 years ago | (#41200739)

If neutrinos are the suspects, wouldn't it be easy to measure the decay rates of one of those nuclei in a strong neutrino flux, close to a large nuclear reactor or in a neutrino beam from an accelerator?

Re:Neutrinos? (4, Informative)

quax (19371) | about 2 years ago | (#41200875)

This would be a good follow up. But producing a high flux of neutrinos is not trivial especially the right kind. The current thinking is that there are three types of neutrinos and that the latter change via a process called neutrino oscillation on the way from sun to earth.

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

Re:Neutrinos? (4, Interesting)

volsung (378) | about 2 years ago | (#41201145)

Since you mention neutrinos, it is also worth noting that there was similar discussion (5 or so years ago) as to whether we can observe periodic variation in the number of neutrinos seen on Earth using various experiments. (Note that periodicities in neutrino rates are not what physicists call "neutrino oscillations". That's an entirely different effect.) Those papers claiming a periodicity included one of the authors on this study of radioactivity decay, and the analysis techniques were disputed by other papers as giving an unacceptably high rate of false positives. The experiments presented counter-analyses showing no significant signal once the probability of false positives was dealt with. (Disclaimer: I was tangentially involved in one of those papers.)

I haven't looked closely enough at the radioactive decay papers to see if the same issue has cropped up again here, but the neutrino periodicity argument is a good example of how these signals can fall apart under closer scrutiny.

Re:Neutrinos? (1)

quax (19371) | about 2 years ago | (#41201411)

It'll be great if you could take the time to scrutinize these papers. If this is simply due to erroneous data analysis this deserves to be shut down.

M.I.A. (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | about 2 years ago | (#41200779)

Now M.I.A. is controlling radioactive decay? That's one powerful finger.

Looks real, but minor (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#41200805)

Interesting. The effect is well under 1%, but above the noise threshold. Observed for radium (a beta emitter) but not europium (an alpha emitter), with the same experimental setup.

Although heat, pressure, and chemical binding have no measurable effect on radioactive decay, external particles hitting an atom certainly can affect radioactive decay. That's how chain reactions and particle accelerators work.

There's a suspicion here that solar neutrinos might be responsible. Beta decay involves the weak nuclear force, while alpha decay involves the strong nuclear force. Neutrinos are known to interact with the weak nuclear force.

The Fermilab accelerator, which can be used as a neutrino generator, was shut down and decommissioned in September 2011. That would have provided a way to test this hypothesis.

Re:Looks real, but minor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201515)

If the effect is related to neutrino flux, it would actually have to be a very strong effect --- the earth is a lousy neutrino shield (consider how little neutrinos notice passing through even the entire sun!), so it hardly matters whether you're on the side facing towards the sun or away. If there is an effect that's not just experimental error, it seems more likely it would either be caused by known particles with significantly stronger matter interactions (e.g. gamma rays), or some new unknown particle with much stronger matter interactions than neutrinos.

And in the end, fear was misplaced... (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 years ago | (#41200811)

In the year 2013, the world learned it was wrong to fear Mother Earth. For all along, watching and judging humanity through the eyes of it's radioactive minions was

                                                          ^^^
                                                        *******
                                                FATHER ** SOL **
                                                        *******
                                                          +++

Coming soon to a theater near you.

and this validates many aging tests (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200859)

People are stupid. Wizard's first rule. Think about what this means to 'carbon dating' material. What else does mankind yet to learn and ask yourself, "Does mankind know for a fact anything?"

Re:and this validates many aging tests (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200993)

People are stupid. Wizard's first rule. Think about what this means to 'carbon dating' material. What else does mankind yet to learn and ask yourself, "Does mankind know for a fact anything?"

Mankind knows for a fact that every time a new discovery is made, silly bints such as yourself will drastically overestimate the amount of science it overturns.

relativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41200901)

such that 'gravity well' of the sun, or the simply its distance, effects the underlying process churning out radioactive decay, in a different proportion than it effects more complex entites like our measuring devices.

How it's relevent (1)

BlueCoder (223005) | about 2 years ago | (#41200975)

For all we know about sub atomic particles and forces this was something not in the least predicted.

What if another reaction within the sun could cause massive decay all over the earth? Periods of mass extinction or mass mutation.

On the practical side it hints that decay rate can be controlled. Could be really important for subatomic particle researchers trying to produce and observe particles with ridiculously short life spans.

If the effect could be produced on demand within a localized area for long periods of time then it could possibly be used to semi neutralize rector waste or to make normally unusable radioactive elements practical fuels.

Re:How it's relevent (1)

quax (19371) | about 2 years ago | (#41201935)

Current neutrino observatories are very difficult to build.
E.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudbury_Neutrino_Observatory [wikipedia.org]

This probably could give neutrino observatories quite a boost.

I wonder... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201013)

I wonder if we would be able to harness this effect to build really efficient neutrino observatories? I'm imagining something like how a PET scan works, with a positron annihilating an electron to release a gamma ray, but instead with a neutrino interacting with a radioactive element to produce decay. That would be really awesome if it's possible. Nebulas, and the galactic core would become as transparent as windows to us. Exciting!

Disclaimer: I am not a physicist!

Wouldn't it make sense? (1)

LennyDotCom (26658) | about 2 years ago | (#41201209)

If the element is so full of neutrons that they are already flying off in all directions, wouldn't that giant supermega generator (You can see it in the sky on a clear day) spewing googlians of subatomic particals have some effect? (As in the spewed partials would be adding energy to the already very dense atoms) If I could test this I would measure the decay as a mass of a very dense element was moved closer to the sun. Sorry didn't read the arcticle maybe this was covered :-)

It's the Neutrinos stuipid! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201271)

Neutrinos are carriers of the weak atomic force. and as such the closer you are to the sun the more decay will happen...Because the weak force is what causes heavy elements to decay.... DUH!

It's an artefact of the detector .. (1)

dgharmon (2564621) | about 2 years ago | (#41201331)

It's a artefact of the detector, as in some unknown effect radiating from the sun is affecting the reading.

Particle physics (2)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#41201341)

If this is truly confirmed, then the obvious next step is to determine what particles being emitted by the sun are causing this effect. Is it a neutrino thing? Neutrinos aren't affected by the magnetosphere at all, IIRC. Once we know the particle(s) involved, there might be some useful tech emerge from it; perhaps it could be used to build a new generation of fission reactors where this effect can be used to enhance control or safety? I dunno... it's not my field at all but that seems obvious enough.

Isn't it obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201417)

When I first read the story myself I was trying to figure out the connection between the sun and radioactive material on earth. I couldn't figure it out.

But then it hit me. I don't think the Sun is the "cause" of the change. I believe there is some other force at work in the universe that affects BOTH the sun and other radioactive materials on Earth.

For example, if you were on the ocean in a ship and you saw another ship and noticed a correlation that every time the other ship bounced up and down, your ship would do the same soon. You might think the other ship was the cause when in fact it was the waves in the ocean causing both.

Relativity effects due to gravity? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 years ago | (#41201425)

If we're moving closer or farther from the Sun, shouldn't the differences in gravity make time flow at different speeds?

Re:Relativity effects due to gravity? (1)

amirishere (2651929) | about 2 years ago | (#41201525)

The change in time flow is relative. We are traveling with the radio active material. Our watches will change speed in the gravity as well.

Why is the effect so small if due to flux? (1)

obstacleman (634020) | about 2 years ago | (#41201431)

The radius of Earth's orbit varies from 147166462 KM to 152171522 KM, or about 3.4%. Since flux is a measure of per unit area, the flux at any point in the Earth's orbit should be number of particles per square meter for a sphere centered at the Sun, and that goes as 4pi(R)^2. So the ratio of flux from closest to farthest approach should vary by those differences squared which is close to 7%. Maybe I am not interpreting the plots correctly but the claimed effect looks a lot smaller than that. If you are going to throw around possible explanations than it is important to check the basic predictions are at least consistent. I do not know whether the results are right or not. I do think having members from the earlier experiment means this does not qualify as independent verification. I didn't check the original papers but I hope they explain in detail the statistical as more importantly the systematic errors and how the latter were controlled and measured. It would be interesting to place one of these detectors near a neutrino beamline and compare results for beam on versus beam off in a similar time of year. I suppose one might even be able to place multiple detectors at different distances away from the beamline axis and compare rates by distance away. One significant challenge would be calibrating the actual flux at the various detectors from the beam when it is on. If it could be done it would reduce some of the systematic errors, but a lot would depend on how long one has to sample to get enough data.

And yesterday, anybody who questioned (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41201453)

the Established Scientific Fact of constant decay rate was a stupid, ignorant, backwoods hick.

Its obvious why. (1)

amirishere (2651929) | about 2 years ago | (#41201507)

Being closer to the sun diminishes the effect that the effect of the Kryptonite on earth. Kryptonite inhibits radio activity (which is also why super man looses his powers.). Therefore being closer to the sun results in more radioactivity. :)

Suggestions: (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#41201751)

From most to least plausible order:

Random accidental correlation that cannot be repeated in independent experiments

Detector noise caused by Sun.

Solar neutrinos catalyze decay.

Undiscovered particles (dark matter) interaction catalyzes decay.

Gravity affects decay rates differently than relativity predicts.

Gravity affects clocks differently than relativity predicts.

Sloppy work (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | about 2 years ago | (#41201783)

It is hard to see how anything having to do with neutrinos could be effected by whatever local noon is in a lab in Isreal. Look at the time of day correlations.. If I did this in a lab in the US should I expect the same time of day results? If so how would such results square with the earth being transparent to neutrinos? Would this not be evidence against neutrinos as a cause?

Separatly it is hard to see how the paper gets away with voltage and temperature measurements which correlate so closely with the variation in observed instrument readings while not discussing any procedures to either characterize the implictaions of the variations on the actual measurement equipment.

I mean is it really that hard to regulate a low voltage power supply or control the temperature in a room?

Dark matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41202077)

Could this be an effect of interaction between the sun and dark matter?

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