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Creation's Tiny Mystery
Appendix: "Giant Radioactive Halos"

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4) Channeling. Even though different optical properties in the region parallel to the cleavage plane make it difficult to observe a transverse halo section in any mica, the giant halos do exhibit a three-dimensional. structure typical of radioactive halos when successive mica layers are cleaved. The idea that channeling of normal-range alpha particles parallel to the cleavage plane would be instrumental in the formation of giant halo rings is certainly correct in principle. Whether the relatively small number of alpha particles emitted along any given cleavage plane is sufficient to produce coloration is not clear. Furthermore, if channeling were the explanation, a series of successive outer bands corresponding to a given multiple of the ranges of the uranium or thorium daughter alpha emitters, or both, might be expected in a given giant halo. This situation is not observed.

5) Beta radiation instead of alpha emission. Laemmlein (7) found beta halos of rather diffuse boundaries with radii up to several thousand micrometers surrounding thorium-containing monazite inclusions in quartz. The fact that many of the perimeters of these giant halos in this mica are well-defined does not favor the association of these halos (Figs. 1-3) with the beta halos; neither do the radii correspond. In addition, Laemmlein noted a correlation between the radius of the beta halo and the volume of the halo inclusion (that is, the thorium content). This is understandable, since energetic beta rays producing coloration at maximum range would emanate throughout the volume of the inclusion. In contrast, no such effect is observed in this mica. Giant halos and uranium and thorium halos occur around relatively small inclusions as well as around larger ones.

6) Long-range alpha particles from spontaneous fission. Long-range alpha particles with a broad energy spectrum accompany normal spontaneous fission events from U238 in an abundance of about 1:400. Neither of these factors is favorable for the production of relatively sharp boundaries such as are seen in certain giant halos. Upon etching several giant halos with hydrofluoric acid to reveal fission tracks, I have found that fission tracks emanate from the inclusions of some, but not all, giant halos. The tracks emanating from some of the inclusions may be attributed to [p. 228] the uranium content of the halo inclusions. The lack of fission tracks in other inclusions implies that at least in these cases long-range alpha particles from spontaneous fission are not instrumental in producing the giant halos.

Fig. 2 (left). A giant halo approximately 57 μm in radius, presumably due to the long-range alpha particles from Po212 (E = 10.55 Mev). One scale division = 10 μm.

Fig. 3 (right). A giant halo approximately 84 μm in radius, whose origin is unknown. If the halo is due to long-range alpha particles, the energy would be about 13.1 Mev. One scale division = 10 μm.

7) Alpha particles or protons from (n,α) or (α,p) reactions. Mica sandwiches containing halo inclusions were irradiated with a total flux of 5 × 1018 neutron/cm2. No induced coloration was noted in the mica section adjacent to the inclusion after irradiation. Since this integrated flux is several orders of magnitude higher than would be expected in naturally occurring inclusions, it appears that (n,α) reactions have not produced the giant halos. Calculations show that (α,p) reactions are also insufficient to produce coloration (see 8).

From the preceding comments it would appear that, although some of the above explanations cannot be definitely excluded, neither can any be presently confirmed as a factor responsible for the origin of the giant halos. Therefore, a few remarks may be made concerning the distribution of halos in this mica and the possibility that the giant halos may have originated with long-range alpha activity either from isomers of known elements or from superheavy elements.

The radii of several hundred halos that were measured with a precision of about ± 1.5 μm are given in Table 1. Greater accuracy was possible but seemed unnecessary, since for halos with large inclusions the actual radius of the halo as measured from the inclusion edge to the halo perimeter will vary up to around 5 to 6 μm with the variation dependent upon the stage of halo development (9). Other uncertainties in the radii measurements arise if the inclusion is inclined with respect to the cleavage plane. The intervals of halo radii were thus chosen to be rather broad; it may well be that certain of the groups listed are composites of subgroups of halos with slightly different maximum radii, but further subdivision did not seem justified at present. The maximum energy values of the alpha particles are recorded for purposes of comparison only and are not meant to necessarily imply that the respective halo groups originated with alpha particles of that energy. There were a few halos which did not fall into any of the above categories, but the number of this type was only a small percentage of the total (2 percent). Halos in groups I and II are the normal uranium and thorium halos, whose maximum radii may be identified with the respective daughter alpha emitters Po214 (E = 7.68 Mev) and Po212 (E = 8.78 Mev) of these decay series. Halos in group IV may be associated with the low-abundance, long-range alpha particles from Po212 (E = 10.55 Mev) in the Th232 decay series.

An attempt to relate other groups of long-range alpha emitters of polonium isotopes in the uranium and thorium decay chain with the giant halo radii is more difficult. For example, the 9.5-Mev group of Po212, which conceivably could produce a 48-μm halo, occurs in an abundance of only about 1:30,000; the 9-Mev group (1:45,000) of Po214 could produce a 45-μm halo; and there exist still other groups with energies up to 10.5 Mev, but these occur in an abundance of only about 1:106. If it is considered that these alpha particles were emitted in the same abundance as is presently observed, only the halos in group IV may reasonably be attributed to known low-abundance alpha particles of higher energy. G. N. Flerov has suggested that Po212m, an isomer of polonium with a half-life of 47 seconds and an alpha-particle energy of 11.7 Mev, not known to occur naturally, may have been responsible for the halo group in the 62- to 67-μm range, since the energy correlates with the prescribed range (10). This identification, if correct, would, first, constitute another example of a rather peculiar phenomenon, namely, the occurrence of halos originating with polonium isotopes apparently unrelated to uranium and thorium daughter products (11), and, second, raise the interesting possibility that the other giant halo groups may be associated with unknown isomers emitting high-energy alpha particles in the 10- to 15-Mev range. Kohman has suggested that such alpha emitters, if they exist, may be shape isomers (12) of known nuclides.

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Earth Science Associates