Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

2015 Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James (Jim) CleavesII, Daniele L. Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Daniel Rouan, Tilman Spohn, Stéphane Tirard, Michel Viso


  • Francis AlbarèdeEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-44185-5_1341


Radioactivity is a spontaneous and irreversible transformation of the atomic nucleus. It is the source of ionizing particles (α particles, comprising two protons and two neutrons; β rays or electrons; and strong electromagnetic radiations (γ rays)). Radioactive decay is archetypal of Poisson processes, which take place with a constant probability per unit of time. Radioactivity powers the energy flow of planetary interiors. It is also the theoretical basis of dating methods that are used to measure the age of rocky planets (geochronology).


After a serendipitous discovery by French physicist Henri Becquerel in 1896, radioactive elements were methodically investigated by Marie Curie. In 1928, George Gamow demonstrated that α decay was due to quantum mechanical tunneling, and in 1934 Enrico Fermi provided a successful explanation of the β decay involving neutrinos.


Radioactivity involves the gigantic energies of the strong, short-range, nuclear force, which...


Atoms Radioactive decay 
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References and Further Reading

  1. Cottingham WN, Greenwood DA (1986) An introduction to nuclear physics. Cambridge University Press, CambridgezbMATHGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecole Normale Supérieure de LyonLyonFrance