Radioactive isotopes are commonly portrayed as providing rock-solid evidence that the earth is billions of years old. Since such isotopes are thought to decay at consistent rates over time, the assumption is that simple measurements can lead to reliable ages. But new discoveries of rate fluctuations continue to challenge the reliability of radioisotope decay rates in general—and thus, the reliability of vast ages seemingly derived from radioisotope dating.
In 2009, New Scientist summarized a discovery at Brookhaven National Laboratories that revealed a statistical correlation between the distance to the sun and fluctuations in the decay rate of a radioactive silicon isotope. The data showed that silicon-32 decayed more slowly in the winter, and then sped up during the summer. A 2010 Stanford University report reflected similar fluctuations in the decay rate of other elements.1 To see whether or not nearness to the sun somehow affected these radioisotope decay rates, researchers laid a solar proximity plot atop the silicon decay plot, and they showed a close match.
Since that time, investigators have yet to discover a satisfying physical mechanism explaining how the sun might accelerate the decay of radioactive atomic nuclei.2 For example, although at the time of the Brookhaven and Stanford reports solar neutrinos were implicated, it appears that neutrinos are just too small and too few. The chances seem too slim for enough neutrinos to collide with enough radioactive atoms to have caused the observed fluctuations.
However, a new report on a separate isotope has again correlated radioisotope decay acceleration with nearness to the sun.3 The investigators locked radioactive radon-222 gas in a lead chamber and compared radioactive readouts taken from both inside and outside the chamber. The experiment was designed to test whether or not changes in radon decay rates are due to atmospheric effects such as gases mixing. The researchers found instead that significant changes were cyclical and corresponded to distance from the sun….
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