When atoms decay, they emit three types of radiation, alpha, beta and gamma. The alpha and beta radiation consist of actual matter that shoots off the atom, while gamma rays are electromagnetic waves. All three kinds of radiation are potentially hazardous to living tissue, but some more than others, as will be explained later on. The first type of radiation, Alpha, consists of two neutrons and two protons bound together to the nucleus of a Helium atom.
Three Types of Radiation: The Properties and Uses of Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Radiation
Applications of Radioactivity and Radioisotopes | Chemistry Assignment
The nucleus of carbon 14 contains 6 protons and 8 neutrons, as opposed to the 6 and 6 found in ordinary carbon The imbalance makes carbon 14 a radioisotope with a half-life of 5, years, and an emitter of beta particles. This radioactive isotope of carbon is called radiocarbon. The carbon 14 found in nature is constantly being regenerated by cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere. The rate at which the regeneration takes place has gone virtually unchanged for centuries; a feature which depends on the flux of particles bombarding the earth, and the strength of the magnetic field capable of diverting them. This magnetic shield, and consequently the particle flux, has slowly changed over time, and the quantity of carbon 14 formed on Earth changes with it.
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Scientists look at half-life decay rates of radioactive isotopes to estimate when a particular atom might decay. A useful application of half-lives is radioactive dating. This has to do with figuring out the age of ancient things.