It remains a puzzling scientific phenomenon.
How can radioactive decay of some elements present in earthly laboratories be influenced by the Sun's activities?
Is our Sun, which is located 93 million miles away really communicating with radioactive isotopes on Earth?
What is the origin and nature of the mysterious particle emitted by our Sun?
Based on our current scientific knowledge the rate of decay of a specific radioactive material is constant.
This theory has recently been unexpectedly challenged by a group of researchers from Purdue University.
Ephraim Fischbach, a Physics Professor at Purdue, was investigating the rate of radioactive decay of several isotopes
as a possible source of random numbers generated without any human input.
Based on previous analysis, scientists knew that a "lump of radioactive cesium-137, for example,
may decay at a steady rate overall, but individual atoms within the lump will decay in an unpredictable, random pattern.
Thus the timing of the random ticks of a Geiger counter placed near the cesium might be used to generate random numbers."
When the researchers examined data on specific isotopes they discovered that there is a disagreement in the measured decay rates.
But this was not the only surprise the science team was confronted with.
"Checking data collected at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island and the Federal Physical and Technical Institute in
Germany, they came across something even more surprising: long-term observation of the decay rate of silicon-32 and radium-226
seemed to show a small seasonal variation.
The decay rate was ever so slightly faster in winter than in summer."
Scientists were uncertain whether this fluctuation was caused by a glitch in the equipment or something else, like for example
the change of season accompanied by changes in temperature and humidity.
"Everyone thought it must be due to experimental mistakes, because we're all brought up to believe that decay rates are constant,"
Peter Sturrock, Professor emeritus of applied physics at Stanford University said.
Interestingly, when a solar flare sent a stream of particles and radiation toward our planet, Jere Jenkins, a Purdue nuclear
engineer noticed while measuring the decay rate of manganese-54, a short-lived isotope used in medical diagnostics that the
rate dropped slightly during the flare, a decrease that started about a day and a half before the flare.
Jenkins noticed that the decay rate deviations occurred during the middle of the night in Indiana.
Something unknown produced by the sun had traveled all the way through the Earth to reach Jenkins' detectors. What could the
flare send forth that could have such an effect?
All of the evidence points toward a conclusion that the Sun is "communicating" with radioactive isotopes on Earth,
but no-one can explain how neutrinos could interact with radioactive materials to change their rate of decay.
Is there a connection between solar flares and the decay rates?
"If this apparent relationship between flares and decay rates proves true, it could lead to a method of predicting solar flares prior to their
occurrence, which could help prevent damage to satellites and electric grids, as well as save the lives of astronauts in space."
Professor Sturrock was aware of that the intensity of the barrage of neutrinos the sun continuously sends racing toward Earth varies on a
regular basis as the Sun itself revolves and shows a different face, like a slower version of the revolving light on a police car.
Professor Sturrock advised his colleagues to look for evidence that the changes in radioactive decay on Earth vary with the rotation of the Sun.
The core of the Sun, where nuclear reactions produce neutrinos spins more slowly than the surface we see. "It may seem counter-intuitive,
but it looks as if the core rotates more slowly than the rest of the Sun," Professor Sturrock said.
"All of the evidence points toward a conclusion that the Sun is "communicating" with radioactive isotopes on Earth," Professor Fischbach said.
However, there is still one highly significant question left unanswered. No one can explain how neutrinos could interact with radioactive
materials to change their rate of decay.
"It doesn't make sense according to conventional ideas," Professor Fischbach said.
"What we're suggesting is that something that doesn't really interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed," Jenkins added.
"It's an effect that no one yet understands. Theorists are starting to say, 'What's going on?' But that's what the evidence points to.
It's a challenge for the physicists and a challenge for the solar people too, " Professor Sturrock said.
If the mystery particle is not a neutrino, "It would have to be something we don't know about, an unknown particle that is also emitted
by the Sun and has this effect, and that would be even more remarkable," Sturrock said.
It may still take a while before scientists are able to identify the nature of the mystery particle.
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