Solar Flares Affect Radioactive Decay Rates

Posted by on Aug 21, 2012 in Nuttings from the Front | 5 comments

An article in the August 13 Science Daily reports on research in progress by Purdue University physicists which could lead to ways of protecting satellite and Earth communication/energy systems and even give warnings to astronauts on space missions . The danger is in the neutrino emissions from solar flares which have knocked out equipment in the past and exposed astronauts to extreme radiation. The researchers are working on technology which could warn of solar activity so we could prevent damage from serious solar flares.

NOTE: The key element of this research has spinoffs to the reliability of radioactive decay dating methods. It appears that solar flares are preceded by particle emission which changes the decay rate of radioactive elements! Since that can be measured, a sudden increase of the decay rate will warn of radiation danger from a flare.

Why is this significant to radioactive decay dating? One of the huge assumptions (and supposedly “proven” facts of science) for the radioactive dating methods is a constant decay rate. If this is not true, then “absolute” dating methods aren’t as reliable as presented. This present research actually documents not only changes in the decay rate preceding a solar flare, but also seasonal fluctuations of the decay rate! Although the measured variations are not huge, this opens the door for research on other ways decay rates can be altered. Therefore, this is very significant research!

I will be looking into this more and try to report on it in the next issue of Think & Believe. So stay tuned!

Dave Nutting

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An X-class flare such as this one, if directed at the earth, could be deadly on electronic equipment including aircraft/ship navigation and power systems. This burst from the sun was on Aug. 9, 2011 as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite.

Date 19 December 2011 Source Goddard Multimedia Author NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


  1. “Since that can be measured, a sudden increase of the decay rate will warn of radiation danger from a flare.”

    This statement is wrong. Solar flares create a DECREASE in the decay rate.
    I know it’s weird.

    • “Data were recorded during routine weekly calibration of an instrument used for radiological safety at Ohio State’s research reactor. Findings showed a clear annual variation in the decay rate of a radioactive isotope called chlorine 36, with the highest rate in January and February and the lowest rate in July and August, over a period from July 2005 to June 2011.”

      • OK. This is due to the fact that the Earth is closer to the sun during the North American Winter.

        I think the confusing part on my end is when the use of the terms decreasing or increasing rate of decay. Is it the rate of time or the rate of energy given off? Because the two are opposites in terms of energy production.

        • Thanks. If the decay rate was greater at times in the past, then determinations based on assumed lower rates of decay would show older dates than actuality.


    • Thanks for your comment and potential correction. There is a bit of confusion in the literature. It appears there is a process which gives off particles that drop the decay rate yet this produces the solar flares. At least, I am somewhat confused.
      According to the research report from Purdue University – “When the Earth is farther away, we have fewer solar neutrinos and the decay rate is a little slower,” Jenkins said. “When we are closer, there are more neutrinos, and the decay a little faster.”

      But according to a Stanford News article, they say it goes the other way. Some quotes:

      “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. Was this fluctuation real, or was it merely a glitch in the equipment used to measure the decay, induced by the change of seasons, with the accompanying 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,’ Sturrock said.”

      “On Dec 13, 2006, the sun itself provided a crucial clue, when a solar flare sent a stream of particles and radiation toward Earth. Purdue nuclear engineer Jere Jenkins, while measuring the decay rate of manganese-54, a short-lived isotope used in medical diagnostics, noticed that the rate dropped slightly during the flare, a decrease that started about a day and a half before the flare.”

      Another source says:
      “Even if this time all cables were taut, many hurdles remain. Dr Fischbach admits that while whatever process generated the flare in 2006 also caused a dip in neutrino flux, and a corresponding drop in radioactive decay rates, other processes seem to have the opposite effect. For example, a storm in 2008 was preceded by a spike in manganese-54 decay rates.He suspects that what is loosely termed a “solar storm” may in fact be a number of distinct processes whose common feature is that they affect neutrino production in one way or another. That is a far cry from a reliable space-weather forecast. But it has not stopped the university from applying for a patent on a decay-based neutrino detector technology, just in case.”

      Can you give clarification?


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