Giant Radioactive Halos: Indicators of Unknown Radioactivity?
Science, vol. 169, pp. 670-673, August 14, 1970.
Abstract. A new group of giant radioactive halos has been found with radii in excess of anything previously discovered. Since alternate explanations for these giant halos are inconclusive at present, the possibility is considered that they originate with unknown alpha radioactivity, either from isomers of known elements or from superheavy elements.
A radioactive halo is generally defined as any type of discolored, radiation-damaged region within a mineral and usually results from either alpha or, more rarely, beta emission from a nearby radioactive inclusion containing either uranium or thorium. When the inclusions are very small (≈ 1 μm), the uranium and thorium daughter alpha emitters produce a series of discolored concentric spheres surrounding the inclusion, which in thin section appear microscopically as concentric rings whose radii correspond to the ranges of the respective alpha emitters (1). Although the radii of normal uranium and thorium halos vary from 12 to 42 μm in mica, possible evidence of unknown radioactivity exists in the scattered reports of unusual halos with anomalous ring radii (2, 3) varying from 5 to 10 μm in the dwarf halos to about 70 μm in the giant halos.
The very few previously reported occurrences of giant halos seem to have been largely ignored, perhaps because either definite information on the presence and size of the halo inclusion was absent (3) or because subsequent confirmation of the report was lacking. Hoppe (4), for example, was unable to confirm the existence of giant halos found by Wiman in certain Swedish granites, but this is not surprising in view of the large variability in the occurrence of particular halo types and the relatively small number of thin sections that Hoppe examined. Indeed, after a more extensive search in which I examined about 1000 thin sections from these granites, I find that giant halos in the 55-μm range do exist in the biotite along with ordinary uranium and thorium halos. These giant rings invariably occur only around very densely colored thorium halos, a result which implies a correlation of this ring with a high thorium content of the inclusion. Examination of the thorium decay scheme shows that the daughter alpha emitter, Po212, emits a low-abundance (1 : 5500) alpha particle of slightly higher energy (10.55 Mev, compared to a normal 8.78 Mev), whose range may be correlated with the observed giant ring. Although there is some question whether the frequency of the low-abundance alpha particles in this energy range can produce a halo ring, I presently infer this association to be correct. The density of giant halos in these granites is quite low, however, and after a further search I have found a mica sample from Madagascar with uranium and thorium halos, in addition to an exceptionally fine collection of giant halos including all the sizes reported by Wiman as well as several much larger varieties of halos heretofore unreported.
The close proximity of occurrence of different halo types in the Madagascar mica provides an excellent range-energy relation which checks with coloration band widths produced experimentally in Van de Graaff helium ion irradiation of the mica matrix (5). Whereas the induced coloration bands are darker than the mica, the halos show reversal (bleaching) effects and are generally lighter than the surrounding matrix, except adjacent to the inclusion. Electron microprobe analyses indicate that the inclusions are monazites (6), and, since they are somewhat large (> 10 μm in diameter), they do not show ring structure as well as halos with point-like inclusions do. Also, the high radioactive content of some of the inclusions leads to an overexposed condition which tends to further obliterate inner ring structure.
The visual appearance of the giant halos (Figs. 1-3) is similar to that of the combination uranium-thorium halos, and the question arises whether long-range alpha particles have produced the giant halos. The affirmative answer to this question cannot be accepted without a critical examination of other modes of origin, since the [p. 227] magnitude of the giant halo radii involved implies the previous existence of naturally occurring alpha emitters with energies higher than any currently known.
Hence it is considered that the giant halos may have originated from:
1) Variations in alpha particle range due to structural changes in mica. Observations show that certain halo inclusions exhibit shapes or structural symmetry not exactly identical to the present outline of the inclusion in the mica matrix, and such deformations of the inclusion from radiation-damage effects might very well alter the structure of the matrix in the vicinity of the inclusion. However, there are numerous sites where uranium and thorium halos of normal size exist adjacent to and, in some cases, actually overlap giant halos (the inclusions of which show no evidence of any expansion or contraction). At least in these cases it would appear that the giant halos do not arise from normal-range alpha particles, which passed through a region of lower mica "density."
2) Diffusion of a pigmenting agent from the inclusion into the matrix. Although it is possible that some pigmenting substance may have been present, electron microprobe traverses across the region of the halo revealed no variations in elemental abundances of the matrix. Furthermore, in annealing experiments that were carried out at 450°C for 24 hours the yellowish tint of the halos either remained the same or in some cases became opaque; that is, there was no fading or otherwise any difference between the reaction of the uranium and thorium halos and that of the giant halos. In essence, if a purely chemical diffusion mechanism is operable, it is producing a type of coloration that is thus far indistinguishable from that initiated by radiation-damage effects. [Small crystalline structures (Liesegang patterns) often occur in mica, but these are easily distinguished from radioactive halos.]
3) Diffusion of radioactivity from the inclusion to the matrix. Electron microprobe analyses showed that uranium and thorium were confined to the inclusion; techniques by which fission tracks were induced indicated only a background uranium concentration surrounding the inclusion, and autoradiographic experiments with Kodak NTA emulsion showed alpha radioactivity restricted to the site of the inclusion. If diffusion of radioactivity has occurred, it is below the detection limit of these three methods.
Earth Science Associates