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phaedryx's avatar

Physicists of Fluther: what if radioactive decay isn't constant? (see details).

Asked by phaedryx (6118points) August 25th, 2010

I was just reading this article:

“As the researchers pored through published data on specific isotopes, they found disagreement in the measured decay rates – odd for supposed physical constants.”

“The radioactive decay of some elements sitting quietly in laboratories on Earth seemed to be influenced by activities inside the sun, 93 million miles away.”

“Their findings strengthened the argument that the strange swings in decay rates were caused by neutrinos from the sun.”

“All of the evidence points toward a conclusion that the sun is “communicating” with radioactive isotopes on Earth, said Fischbach.”

How credible is this? What are the implications? Other thoughts? It sounds pretty crazy/awesome to me.

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22 Answers

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Physics is safe; they’re just talking about a new wrinkle.

Absent the outside influence of the solar activity, the rate of decay remains constant. The solar flares and the processes that produce them appear to be generating flurries of neutrino activity, Neutrinos can pass through miles of shielding without even slowing down, but they are know to interact with atomic nuclei.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

”“All of the evidence points toward a conclusion that the sun is “communicating” with radioactive isotopes on Earth, said Fischbach.””

What a loose and ignorant usage of the term “communication”. I’ve seen much of this metaphorical truancy in science recently. Inexcusable for science to speak in metaphor.

Have they isolated the transmitter, receiver? Have they uncovered a syntactical structure? Have they determined the process of noise reduction or redundancy? Have they even discovered an alphabet A and demonstrated how it is mapped to alphabet B?

These are all requirements for communication to take place. And let’s not forget intentions and message. Those are properties of mind, not chaos.

It is a sad day when science thinks the Sun can speak and communicate with radioactivity. It reeks of ancient myth and folklore of talking trees, whispering streams and burning bushes that speak to Moses. Ridiculous.

It’s just cause and effect. Call it what it is and nothing more. Oh, but big headlines and outlandish statements are what gleans the funding and grants.

Zyx's avatar

Decay isn’t constant, it’s a product of physics on a scale we can’t observe properly.

Vortico's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies I agree that popular science articles use words like “communicated” to make the reader think the author knows what he’s talking about. And even if a physicists writes an article for the general public, he tends to throw BS words and ideas out.
The word communication in physics has a slightly more abstract meaning that the type of communication humans are used to. (Or maybe it’s our definition that is abstract.) It generally means that an event from an observed distance away can immediately affect—or affect with a delay—a state or particle in our proximity. A particle can change a quantum state of another, or an object can send an electromagnetic wave which can vibrate another particle far away.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Yes @Vortico, I am aware that physics has its own special definitions for the information sciences. This is unfortunate, unwarranted, and altogether disrespectful for established definitions.

In 2003, J. D. Bekenstein claimed there is a growing trend in physics to define the physical world as being made of information itself

There is no reason for this, and it has never been explained adequately enough to justify hijacking words to fit a particular industry. We don’t need more confusion and we certainly don’t need to teach young minds that which is untrue and unnecessary.

For instance:
@Vortico ” event from an observed distance away can immediately affect—or affect with a delay—a state or particle…”

That would be effect not affect. Affect is a property of mind… affection, and events don’t have minds or affections. Cause/Effect is completely different from Thought/Affect.

The Information Sciences are well established. They do not need their lexicon redefined by physics or anyone. That’s why I adhere to A Discipline Independent Definition of Information:

This discipline independent definition may be applied to all domains, from physics to epistemology.

Physics can play nicely along with all other disciplines, or allow some loose tongued professor of years gone by pass an improper metaphor along to students and erroneously promote a vernacular they know very little about.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

While the article is not well phrased, it is perfectly plausible that neutrinos from the sun cause minor changes in isotope decay rates. However that does not make the constant wrong, it just means there is another variable in the equation.

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hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

Interesting. Let me just add that neutrinos are susceptible to the weak nuclear force and that some aspects of radioactive decay involve it too. Indeed, that’s how the existence of the neutrino was postulated long before they were experimentally observed.

ETpro's avatar

The truly interesting thing is that the Purdue Research noticed the effect started about 36 hours before the flare erupted. So it may not be particles doing it at all. It may be quantum linkage between particles which were once part of and interacted in the nascent cloud of matter and energy that formed our sun and solar system.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

@ETpro you’d expect a surge of neutrinos to preceede a solar energy burst of some sort given that the neutrinos exit the interior of the sun far more easily than normal matter or light can. (Indeed, energy transfer from the core of the sun to the surface I’ve read has a delay time on the orders of millions of years, relying mostly on convection.)

phaedryx's avatar

Since neutrinos are electrically neutral, is there a way to shield against them?

Is this just another example of in the perfect physics world it would be X, but in reality you have to take into account Y, so observation is X modified by Y?

Does this affect radioactive dating, e.g. true age is X – Y where Y is additional aging effect caused by neutrinos?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@phaedryx Most neutrinos pass through the Earth without interacting with anything at all. If you wanted to shield against neutrinos, you could reduce their quantity to half with lead shielding one light year thick, but that is several times more than the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and we probably don’t have enough lead in the whole planet.
The potential effect of these interactions on radiometric dating is minimal, probably less than one year in 100,000, which means its effect would be less than the error we already have in existing data.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@ETpro “It may be quantum linkage between particles which were once part of and interacted in the nascent cloud of matter and energy that formed our sun and solar system.”

I like where you’re going with that.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

Everybody around here seems to be reading New Scientist!

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop I had no idea there were reasons to doubt its credibility. I guess I’ll be more careful in future.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

FTL communication aside, if quantum coherence is retained between your common, garden variety cesium atom on Earth and atoms in the Sun (as a consequence of them having presumably hooked up in the primordial cloud) then you’d think it would be a snap to maintain coherence for one second in the lab between atoms some microns apart on the same chip at liquid helium temperature. Well, it isn’t, which is why we don’t all have quantum computers yet.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Do we know why “it isn’t”?

didn’t Edison fail a few hundred times with the lightbulb?

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

The short answer: the information is lost to the environment due to heat-induced motion.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

“Information is information. Not energy and not matter. Any materialism that does not allow for this cannot survive in the present”
Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics p147

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

Well then, the flow of information from me stops here. POOF!

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Point being, that Information is not at the mercy of heat induced motion. Info is an immaterial agent that does not conform to the laws of physical energy/matter.

But aside from that, I think to get your point that the physical medium of atoms/chips breaks down from heat induced motion, even when cooled to liquid helium temperature.

ETpro's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop ”’d expect a surge of neutrinos to preceede a solar energy burst…” Maybe. I’d just really like to know if it was the effect of neutrinos or quantum entanglement. Surely we could measure for neutrinos surges and for the change in measured decay rates simultaneously, since one measurement would not collapse the wave function of the target of the other measurement.

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