Properties and Characteristics of Alpha Particles, Beta Particles and Gamma Rays

Alpha vs Beta vs Gamma Rays

Unstable atoms on radioactive decay emit particles such as alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays. These are energy particles, and by producing these energy-rich particles the unstable radioactive atom tries to attain atomic stability. The present post discusses the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of alpha, beta and gamma particles.

Compare alpha, beta and gamma rays

image source: wikipedia

Alpha Particles

Ø  They are also called alpha rays, designated as α2+.

Ø  Alpha rays consist of two protons and two neutrons bound tougher into particles.

Ø  They are identical to the helium nucleus.

Ø  They are produced by the alpha decay of radioactive materials.

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Ø  They are positively charged particles.

Ø  Contain 2 positive charges.

Ø  They have a kinetic energy of about 5 MeV.

Ø  They move with high velocity.

Ø  The velocity is 1.4 X 10^9 to 1.7 X 10^9 cm/second (~ 5% of velocity of light)

Ø  They are ionizing radiations.

Ø  The penetration power of alpha particles is very less.

Ø  Their path can even be blocked by a paper.

Ø  They are scattered when they pass through metal foil.

Ø  They are quickly deflected by electric and magnetic fields.

Ø  Due to the positive charge, they deflect towards the negative plates.

Ø  They affect photographic plates.

Ø  Alpha rays produce fluorescence and phosphorescence.

Ø  They can induce mutations in biological organism.

Ø  They can also ionize biological molecules.

Ø  Exposure of alpha rays is 20 times more dangerous than beta and gamma rays.

Ø  Examples for alpha emitters: Uranium-238, Thorium-227, Plutonium-238, Polonium-210 and Radon-218.

Beta Particles

Ø  They are also called beta rays.

Ø  Beta rays are high energy and speed electrons.

Ø  They are emitted from a radioactive material after the beta decay.

Ø  They are negatively charged particles.

Ø  They carry one unit negative charge.

Ø  They move with a velocity of 2.36 X 10^8 to 2.83 X 10^8 cm/second

Ø  They are less ionizing. The ionizing power of beta particles is far less than that of alpha particles.

Ø  They have more penetration power than alpha rays.

Ø  They are deflected by electric and magnetic fields.

Ø  Due to the negative charge, they are deflected towards the positive plats.

Ø  Beta rays also affect photographic plates.

Ø  They produce phosphorescence.

Ø  They are severely scattered when passing through the matter.

Ø  Examples of beta emitters: Carbon-14, Phosphorus-32, Nickel-63, Tritium, Potassium-40 and Strontium-90.

Gamma rays

Ø  Gamma rays are better known as gamma radiation.

Ø  Unlike alpha and beta rays, they are not particles.

Ø  They are electromagnetic radiations with high energy.

Properties of Alpha Beta and Gamma Rays

Ø  They are produced from a radioactive material after the gamma decay.

Ø  Gamma rays have high penetration capacity.

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Ø  The velocity of gamma rays is similar to that of light.

Ø  Gamma rays do not have any charge.

Ø  Gamma rays are not deflected by electric and magnetic fields.

Ø  Their ionization capacity is very poor.

Ø  They produce phosphorescence.

Ø  Gamma rays can affect photographic plates.

Ø  Examples for gamma emitters: Iodine-131, Caesium-137

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