Of all the assumptions involved in radiometric dating, the constancy of the radioactive decay rate has been consideredvariations, seasonal, the most certain, half-life being treated, for all practical reasons, as constant. Even if at the level of individual atoms decay is random (stochastic), it was always considered that if there are enough individual atoms in any analyzed sample, the decay rate of the sample is predictable, i.e. ‘constant’. One of the main reasons for such a position was the assumption that no natural processes can and do influence radioactive decay.
This assumption was seriously challenged by recent discoveries. Data from Brookhaven National Laboratory showed a statistical discrepancy of measured decay rates published over the years.1 Even more interestingly, 32Si measured decay rates revealed seasonal variations (modulation), being slightly (0.1%)2 faster in the winter than summer. At that point, the variation was dismissed as a technical glitch; some sort of measurement error.
The story gained momentum in 2006 when a clear cause-effect situation was discovered: during a solar flare event, the decay rate of the radioisotope 54Mn was measured to be slightly slower.2 In early December 2006, Ephraim Fischbach and Jere Jenkins showed that a spike in X-ray flux due to the solar flare coincided with a dip in manganese decay rate. A few days later, another X-ray spike was found to coincide with a dip in manganese decay. On 17 December 2006, a third such situation was documented, the dip being more evident. Regardless of the facts recorded, the paper submitted by the two authors was rejected by Physical Review Letters because it lacked a mechanism to back it up!
The two researchers continued their work, however, and studied another set of data from an experiment performed at the Federal Physical and Technical Institute in Germany and found out that 226Ra decay rates also showed seasonal variation. The importance of this discovery lies not only in simply reinforcing the statistics but also in the fact that unlike the previously-mentioned radioisotopes (decaying by βdecay), the radium-226 decay is of α type. At about the same time, Fischbach and Jenkins suggested that the culprits were neutrinos3 in the solar flares. Such an explanation was acceptable for β decay, which is governed by the weak interaction and neutrinos are known to be affected by the weak interaction. Yet α decay should not be influenced by neutrinos.2
Proceeding undeterred by the skepticism of most physicists, the two scientists have found that decay-rate modulation is in sync with the earth’s orbit.4-8 Stanford University’s professor emeritus Peter Sturrock then suggested that they test if the modulation was also linked to the rotation of the sun, since the neutrino output of our star is not even over its entire surface and the surface rotates over 28 days.
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