Yesterday there was news that the Copernican Principle might need to be reexamined. Today there’s news that radioactive decay rates aren’t nearly as constant as we’ve thought. They appear to seasonally speed up and slow down – and increase when there’s a solar flare.
That’s sort of big deal because all of our time keeping is now based on the assumption that radioactive decay (at the macro level) occurs at a constant rate. It’s an issue in medicine where anti-cancer drugs and treatments are administered assuming a constant rate, and if that’s different during the year, then we’re going to need to change things. I suppose radio-carbon dates might be adjusted too, but it might well be that the seasonal variations has the effect of canceling themselves out.
The effect was discovered, interestingly enough given my post yesterday about the Copernican Principle, by a researcher who was trying to verify another researcher’s data regarding a sample array of radioactive decay rates. Observing the discrepancies, the scientists didn’t just explain them away as mechanical problems, instead they looked closer and discovered, over a period of years, that the rates were seasonal.
“Going back to take another look at the decay data from the Brookhaven lab, the researchers found a recurring pattern of 33 days. It was a bit of a surprise, given that most solar observations show a pattern of about 28 days – the rotation rate of the surface of the sun.
The explanation? The core of the sun – where nuclear reactions produce neutrinos – apparently 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,’ Sturrock said.
All of the evidence points toward a conclusion that the sun is ‘communicating’ with radioactive isotopes on Earth, said Fischbach.
But there’s one rather large question left unanswered. No one knows how neutrinos could interact with radioactive materials to change their rate of decay.”
Read the full article here.
How much fun is this? An excellent bit of scientific sleuthing. Even more fun because we don’t understand why neutrino flux should change decay rates. More science to learn!