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Particle Radiation - Windows to the Universe

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The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
Two high radiation regions surround Earth - the inner and outer Van Allen radiation belts.
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Windows to the Universe

Particle Radiation

One main type of radiation, particle radiation, is the result of subatomic particles hurtling at tremendous speeds. Protons, cosmic rays, and alpha and beta particles are some of the most common types of particle radiation.

Particle radiation can harm living creatures and can short out electronic circuits... so it is dangerous for humans and robots alike.

Protons and electrons are two of the most common types of particles encountered. Tear apart an atom of hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, and you get a proton and an electron... hence the abundance of this type of radiation.

Strip the two electrons from the second most abundant element, helium, and you are left with a nucleon containing two protons and two neutrons. This helium-nucleus particle is called an "alpha particle". Free electrons, when zipping around as radiation, are known as "beta particles". A third type, gamma radiation, is not a particle but rather a high-energy form of electromagnetic radiation.

Neutrinos are bizarre particles that can pass through almost anything, even miles (kilometers) of solid rock. Because neutrino radiation rates may be able to tell us about the nuclear reactions at the core of the Sun, scientists have gone to great lengths to try to devise detectors that sense these elusive particles.

There is a second main type of radiation, which deals with the transfer of energy by waves from vibrating electric and magnetic fields. That type of radiation is called "electromagnetic radiation".

Last modified June 22, 2005 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF