Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

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Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby charleswenzel » Sun Oct 03, 2010 12:48 pm

I was incredulous when I read this: http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/breakin ... -elements/ . I discovered the magnitude of the suggested decay rate suppression is on the order of 0.3% for seasonal variation and 0.4% for a particular solar flare. Resolution like that seems pretty easy to achieve and I enjoy the electronics aspect, so I built a contraption. I wonder if anyone would comment on the validity of this experiment I've set up. I mounted an americium element from a smoke detector in a simple ion chamber (empty almond can) and I am measuring the current vs time, plotting a reading once per minute for 24 hours at a time. I've modified a temperature chamber to keep the ionization chamber within a fraction of a degree of a fixed temperature and I've successfully compensated for barometric pressure, thanks to a timely front. I put a little piece of tape over the americium to determine the span, and I think I should be able to see short-term variations below 0.1%. That's about the fatness of the line, but one can see well below that, since there isn't a lot of flicker. I suspect I could reduce the noise more with more elements in the chamber, but this seems adequate. I know I can't keep this thing going for a full year, but wouldn't this thing be able to see any relatively fast effects from sudden solar activity, as suggested in some of the papers? I suspect I'm looking for N-rays, anyway. : ) I'm posting my progress on a blog: http://almostbreakingnews.blogspot.com/
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Re: Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby Doug Coulter » Sun Oct 03, 2010 3:00 pm

There's been some recent discussion about variable lambda on a few science sites, and on fusor.net. The first guess of most people is that it must be related to neutrinos some way.
There are also some anomalies measured by NASA on probes getting way out away from the sun in decay rates of their nuclear-thermal power sources (and there are other issues on that one as well -- gravity doesn't seem to work quite right either).

Someone did a recent test with gold 198 that they thought proved it wasn't neutrinos, but that didn't take into account that the neutrinos gold emits on decay are (perhaps obviously) the anti of the sort that would trigger the decay, and don't have time to oscillate between emission and leaving a small gold sphere -- and we know the interaction rates with matter are so low that in a sphere that will fit in your lab (much less be affordable) isn't going to really tell you much. Their test was comparing decay rate of sphere vs foil, thinking that gold's own neutrinos would trigger further decay. Even if it is neutrinos, do we know what energy should be on them to maximize the "cross section"? I don't believe we even know how to measure that yet.

My take is that frankly, there's just not enough good data to make a call yet. The neutrinos were posited because of the old "what else could it be" problem(s). It's an easy out to blame it on things that are hard to detect at all, even with some pretty expensive and superior gear. I think we don't know is a better answer for the moment, we have just enough good data to see that there might be an effect, not to a whole lot of sigma, though. This is hard to measure. Saying something is a fraction of a percent when we measure a lot of things to many decimals makes it sound a lot easier than it is.

Radioactive decay is the most random thing humans have ever encountered. You can (and I have) count sources in the 10k cpm range, knowing that your detector has very good quantum efficiency (which means you don't have a lot of potentially random lost counts), and still not get enough data to nail down the activity to even 10-20 cpm unless you count for many hours. It's hard to get two 12 hour counts, normalized back to CPM, to agree that well. For one thing, cosmic rays and the normal solar weather phenomena crap your counter up unless extreme measures are taken with anti coincidence techniques (which require some confidence of high QE in all the counters involved, or a lot of setups to compare data taken simultaneously in different places). If you work out what it takes to get a good number statistically, it's a daunting measurement to get and be confident in. And for all we know, the cosmic ray muons etc are causing this, and in fact there may even be a time delay between one putting a nucleus into a metastable state and it finally deciding to "go". That kind of activity has its own half life, as a look in the CRC handbook will make abundantly clear.

Here, my nominal lab background with a *good* pancake geiger counter is 42 cpm. Consecutive counts for 10 seconds will read from 6 cpm to 120. It takes a lot of averaging to get the 42 number to pop out. Of course, while you're doing this averaging, there's no guarantee that the source of the radiation wasn't changing...Now, I can get a better feel for the background perhaps with a scintillator that will count roughly 1000 times in the same period, as it will for one thing, see all X and Gamma rays (the geiger misses a few) and can also time-resolve individual particles in a shower -- but not always, which of course adds more uncertainty and you are still kinda hosed getting a good number.

So, getting this measured is a worthy and very challenging project indeed -- and we don't even know if only some kinds of decay are affected, or all of them, so we don't really even know what kind of isotope should show the greatest effect.

The standard model theory is that semi pre-formed alpha particles are bouncing around inside say, U-238 at about 10e22 hz or so. It has a half life of what, a few billion years? So the chance that one tunnels into decay is so low -- this is the definition of nearly perfect random. Who knows what might either give one a little extra kick (the neutrino theory) or perhaps temporarily lower the tunneling barrier (neutrinos again). Or could it be one of the theorized but not yet detected "new" physics particles? Or some electromagnetic disturbance that happens to get into resonance with the supposedly mechanical motion of the nucleons? I think we just do not know enough to say, yet.

O)f course, even if you have 100% QE and get every radiation that comes out of a sample, you still miss major amounts of it that happen to be absorbed within the sample -- another random process that depends on a lot of things, including just which way they happened to be emitted in - even in a foil, you might have some that are tangent to the surface and have to take the long way out -- and won't make it.

As far as I know, no one yet has worked anything but alpha decay. Might whatever this effect is be something that would be more sensitively detected by a beta decay kind of process? Or the relaxing of a metastable nucleus (pure gamma output)?

At any rate, were I going to tackle this one (it's worthy but so are the other things I'm working with) I would set up quite a number of experiments -- both local so they'd all catch the same cosmic showers, and around the planet so they didn't, and get some statistical horsepower working for me, along with measurements of anything else that came to mind, from ELF whistlers to cosmics to solar activity to seismics., to flare-caused magnetic storms (which in turn shift the cosmic footprint around) -- you name it, I'd be getting it and looking at correlations. I'd be doing it down in mines, and up on the surface -- if I could get the moon, or more precise data from those NASA probes, yep, that too. I'd be using high QE, large area counters, and sample of various things of known high purity. This is going to be truly a hard one to nail down so that everyone agrees it's hammered. Would it not be cool to get some samples far enough apart to see a speed of light time lag between two correlated bursts? And therefore even be able to tell which way whatever it is is coming from (assuming it's light speed)?

Of course, the advantages of knowing what is going on are potentially huge too. What if you could create the effect on purpose? The implications are pretty interesting, like not needing a critical mass to make a reactor, nuclear batteries so to speak where you could charge up some stuff into a metastable state and trigger them to all emit at once (EG DARPA's work with an isotope of Hf that is claimed to do that). Large possible benefits to knowing that trick, whatever it turns out to be.

But at this point, "science" thinks there is an effect. That's all we "know".
We don't know if it's just alpha decay or other kinds.
We have no clue what the cause might be.
We haven't done enough tests to for sure reject all error sources (some cosmics have as much energy as the LHC and above and that might do "anything").
We don't know if some isotopes with similar decay types show more or less of the effect.
We don't know if it's really the daughter products in a decay chain, or the main content that shows the effect. (need spectroscopy of the gammas/betas/alphas to even have a clue).

So there are some of the questions, which in general helps find the answers. Feel free to add more of them. I know I don't know.
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Re: Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby Doug Coulter » Sun Oct 03, 2010 5:11 pm

A few more thoughts. If you were stacking 3 counters (I'd use scintillators), you would want to record for each the exact time of the hits, rather than doing some simple gating for co incidences.
I would make the inner counter thick enough to get all the radiation off my sample, which would be in a small hole drilled into the scint, so it wouldn't trigger the ones above and below.
The whole thing wouldn't have to be all that large, though. The matter of what to use for a sample deserves some serious skull-sweat -- do you want an alpha decayer with a long half life so it doesn't change much during the runs? How might any hot daughters affect what you're trying to see? Example would be a small u238 source I sealed into a washer, between two microscope cover slips. Since I did that, a source that used to be 10,500 cpm has become about 10% hotter....due to the daughters that now can't get away at the radon step.

For this, you'd want a real good oscillator -- like the ones Charles makes, hauling (high frequency for time resolution), and a good fast sync counter. You'd want to record the pulse height as well (coarse energy spectroscopy). Then you could data mine to your heart's content later. The prime directive of scientific data acquisition is "don't throw out any info, you never know what's going to be important", in this context.

Whether this correlates to flares, or some event inside the sun, or the sun at all, is not known yet, really. An event in the fusion part of the sun could make neutrinos (if that's what it is, I hope it's something else, something we can do ourselves) that come out unimpeded, while the effects on the surface may be so lagged and smeared out, you'd not see a correlation at all. Photons take a lot of years to come out from down in there, having been radiated, absorbed and re-radiated in that dense soup for quite awhile. I think I heard the mean free path for photons down in there is really really short.
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Re: Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby charleswenzel » Sun Oct 03, 2010 9:49 pm

I chose a small ion chamber that has practically no response to background and the little bit of americium gives me a relatively large current. I'm not looking at individual counts, but the aggregate current. I don't remember the exact current but I think it was over a pA, so there's lots of "counts." The chamber voltage is low and the electrode is thick, so I don't think there's any multiplication going on. I'm getting fairly narrow, straight lines for days at a time, and I should be able to see a variation below 0.1% of the average, unless I'm misunderstanding something. Today, I did observe a steady drop of about 0.3% in the chamber current that I can't explain. The curve made an abrupt change to a downward slope for six hours, so it isn't a random-looking effect.

But, setting that sort of mystery aside, is there some reason that this is not a valid way to detect the purported effect? I don't know what the effective count must be in that chamber, but I bet it's pretty high to give so much current. For some reason, I'm remembering a current more like 25 pA, but I'll have to pop the lid to check the gain. At the time, I was thinking in terms of percentage of the total, so I was concentrating on setting the gain for nearly full scale. I'm pretty sure the americium is dwarfing any other sources of radiation, well beyond a 0.1% variation.
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Re: Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby Doug Coulter » Sun Oct 03, 2010 10:20 pm

Well, you are obviously a really good engineer, and seem to understand most of the issues involved. I like the stuff your outfit makes BTW -- very very cool indeed, and I've been to some of those places and done some of that, and know what it takes. Kudos! TechLib rocks too - I've done many of those things, of course in some slightly different way as whats in my junkbox controls a lot of that kind of thing.

The "practically no response to background" bothers me a little, but simply swamping it with something very hot like the Am is very good -- a loud signal is always better. The same rules apply here as in what your company does, in general -- and I'd be disturbed if I couldn't measure the noise in something to really know my SNR, personally but hey -- the ion chamber approach (I read all your stuff on that) IS pretty stable if you've handled things like humidity changing insulation resistance and all that sort of junk.
Heck for that matter humidity changes the ionization sensitivity some -- probably better to use a sealed chamber?

We see crazy changes in cosmic background here, some on a fairly predictable 24 hr cycle (dawn and dusk are hot here in VA), some just out of the blue. Some cosmic showers we get it wouldn't surprise me if they got well out of the noise floor on your ion chambers. Your mileage may vary as you are somewhat closer to the equator? Don't have much clue on that. The lower energy cosmics are deflected by earth's field, which does vary with solar weather quite a lot. We sometimes see several second bursts so hot that a 5 ns response-time phototube-scintillator can't keep up and the pulses "pile up" on the scope -- and on more than one detector in the room at once.

Now I have to go look up the daughter chain for Am and see if there's anything interesting there that may affect results using it. Ion chambers see all alphas, most betas, and not too many gammas, so how things progress down the decay chain may be "interesting". Oh, they see muons really well too, and some of those are pretty hot.

The approach at any rate, should let you observe any effect that is truly there, especially if it's a large one as reported. What it doesn't give you that the stacked sensitive scints do is the possibility of figuring out what correlates to or drives the effect. Which would really be good to know if someone can find it, it would change physics a goodly bit. Maybe not create any new "laws" but as with most things, show that they were right, but only in hindsight -- explanatory but insufficiently predictive. Because this effect, should it pan out, certainly wasn't predicted by anyone at all.

It will obviously miss anything that needs fine time resolution, which may go either way -- whether averaging or something more like a median smooth is what is wanted is just one of the unknowns here.

BTW, I love fooling with tiny signals myself....At one point we did an EEG system for infants and used pure cap coupling from the head (no hair shaving or conductive gel) to get the signals.
A few mv and a few pfs coupling cap at a few hz....a challenge, but we managed it with preamps on flexible PCB on a shower cap sort of thing.

On the other hand, here we make a lot of EMI (not to mention gammas and neutrons) with some things (fusor!) so when I can, I get the gain right in the detector -- phototube, whatever, so I'm not just counting noises I make. For me to do this well, I'd have to make some portable ones and put them out in the back 40.
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Re: Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby charleswenzel » Mon Oct 04, 2010 1:50 am

I have a large cookie tin ionization chamber running, too. I see a modest "hill" in the background during the daylight hours, not unlike a SID receiver's plot. Oddly, on two consecutive days in the pre-dawn hours last week, the readings went quite high for a few hours. But, I haven't correlated anything on that detector with the americium chamber. The reason the tiny ion chamber reads very near zero for background is that I had to set the gain fairly low, so that the americium doesn't "peg" the output. And, it's a pretty small volume, just big enough to let most of the alphas do their thing. I figured that any bigger is just inviting external radiation to make an impact.

Today's wandering doesn't make much sense. It dropped a few tenths of a percent over a several hour period and appears to be staying there. I don't perceive that anything changed in the basement to cause that. I suppose something mechanical could be going on with the little bit of americium. I need to secure the sample in a better way, also. Presently the little smoke detector mount is just held in position by hot melt, not the best choice for something being heated in an oven, albeit only slightly.

I'm glad there isn't something obviously wrong with the approach. I've also concluded that the next logical step is to seal the chamber and maybe back fill it. I already brought a little airtight box home from work for the job. It has a gas fitting, so I can pump out the moist air and back fill with something. I'll probably add a couple of smoke detector elements to increase the current, too. This is such a familiar chain of events. You would think by now, I'd just skip all the intermediate steps and build the thing the right way in the first place! How does nature know exactly how successful to let the first attempt be, so that an endless series of improvements become inevitable. If this thing were a factor of three better, I'd be done!

Thanks for the consulting. If I ever see something that looks "real," I'll immediately build another one and place it at work. Seeing the same response on two independent chambers would be the ticket.
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Re: Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby Doug Coulter » Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:26 pm

Yeah, seeing it in two chambers is the ticket -- now back that up with an identical control chamber with no Am in it too, and you're there, or nearly. Set up some kind of PIC or LabJack based logger and let it rip for awhile.

I do like the idea of measuring and logging some other things -- whatever comes to mind, as a possible indicator of what's driving what.

A funny along those lines. I got this huge NeFeB magnet -- large enough to be quite dangerous (3" dia, 1" thick). So I used it as a counterweight on one of the pull-chain ceiling fixtures around the place. It was a good compass of course, and normally it pointed right at the south facing wall (it's that way so the solar panels on the roof are pointed right). So, over a period of maybe a week or so, it started pointing way off the wall, very weird. I went around trying to figure out if it was due to me moving some of the big junk in the shop on the floor beneath, but no, wasn't that. Even outdoors....ah that was the clue. A few days after that I mentioned it to another science type, and he says, oh yea, we just had the biggest magnetic storm on record! So that mystery was solved, but I had let my 10 henry air-wound coil VLF antenna sit and not hooked it up for the entire time...Rats! Now what I want to do, since that got my interest, is make a round ball that floats in something (steel in mercury or similar) that's magnetized and has a mirror-laser setup so I can see things move even if the motion is tiny -- and in more than just the horizontal plane.
I guess I could get 3 magnetometers and set up a 3 axis thing, but the floating ball gets to my sense of elegance -- if I can find a proper material set that will float the ball in the middle of the container and not tend to drift to the edge and get stuck.

I commiserate with the half-right first tries on stuff. But having done a zillion product developments, I also know that it's often as not a waste of time to put too much work into a test of "is this worth doing" as well. In other words, I don't think it's nature so much outside of us, as inside.

Argon/CO2 mix should be a good backfill gas to try, electron mobility peaks at about a percent CO2 in that mix (eg less of it than in the welding gas mix). Argon being heavy means it gets gammas better, dunno if you want that, but there it is. Other gases have some interest -- He for one, but that stuff is used for leak detection for a good reason, good luck keeping it inside anything. I did a good business fixing dead HeNe lasers for awhile by just putting them in a tank with He at 2 atm and letting it leak back in....He is hard to ionize, but alphas won't have trouble doing that at all.

Anyway, try some inert gas that doesn't have pressure variations too bad and humidity changes. That will be a challenge for anyone not pretty well versed in vacuum work -- if you want to learn how to make things really airtight, that's the field to get into and fiddle around with. You learn a lot very quick.
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Re: Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby charleswenzel » Fri Oct 08, 2010 4:26 pm

Ah, a weekend, finally! I'm playing hooky today and I've started to build the new chamber. I appreciate the difficulties getting a really good seal, but it's almost good enough as-is, so I suspect something that would pass a gross leak test will slow down the extraneous effects enough. I'm not trying to look at seasonal variations, just short-term stuff. The barometric changes should go away, for one. I thought about using some dry ice to purge the air, but now I'm leaning toward air and a desiccant pack since there's plenty of room in the sealed box.

Wow, I had no idea a solar storm could disrupt the earth's field that much for a significant amount of time! How about a big, red arrow with little magnets on the ends hanging in a sealed plastic box?

You would get a laugh from my data taker. I use a PIC to short the wires on an old keyboard PCB. I just need the "0," "1," and "enter" keys to enter binary values into a spreadsheet. I'm going to add three arrows so I can have multiple columns. Actually, I already have that part wired, but I need to change the program and add more analog connectors and circuitry.
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Re: Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby Doug Coulter » Fri Oct 08, 2010 5:21 pm

Yeah, really, weekend! Yahooo! What a week; I trade stocks for a living, and it was a good week, but with a lot of white knuckle moments -- the equipment budget for next year is looking good!

I'd been thinking of what you're doing, and came to the same conclusion -- a semi sealed chamber with drierite, or silica gel in it.

I've also been looking at putting the Am into a small lead "pit" so the long range alphas are either eaten in the lead (no ions or very few), or fire down the tube long axis so they are fully absorbed in the gas, rather than a random mix as would be the case in a small chamber and an isotropic radiator (or a half sphere, which is more probably what you have).
The range of alphas in air is a few cM, and most of the ions happen at the slow end, far end, of that range. So making sure all the ones that count at all, count fully, should reduce the effective noise -- as you pointed out, you've got ion current to burn, so it might be good to burn a little in a good cause, getting the ones you get more accurately measured. The idea there would be to use a small diameter tube but long enough to get all the ions from an alpha -- say 3/4" by about 4".

But you are going to see some long term drift that isn't the fault of the electronics and could be either way. This is because of radon, and I've seen it in some test samples I made out of U2O3 here. Sealing them too well let the radon collect, and the daughters of that (which are all hot, but solid) also. There is a term mentioned in the books "secular equilibrium" where all the daughters and the parent finally reach some stable ratio, and you'll see a drift while that happens. The radon daughters unfortunately will tend to collect inside the chamber no matter what you do, unless there is some xfer with the outer air (and even then some will happen). Those are all solids and very hot, short life stuff, which then decays into longer lived stuff.

The effect in my small samples, basically some stuff sealed between microscope cover slips on a 3/8" washers, was on the order of 10% in a couple months. Big shift. Glad I recalibrated.

If I were designing one of these today, what I'd do would be to make a cylinder chamber (copper pipe or similar) with the central rod not quite reaching the end far from the feedthrough, then make a cap for the other end that held the sample on the inside, and some dessicant on the outside such that the aperature for desiccant was large for the chamber innards, and tiny for the outside air (like a 1" piece of .005" id capillary tubing). The idea is not to ruin the desiccant too quick, but to have all that gets into the chamber on the usual thermal cycles pass through it.

As you say, if the central rod is large, and smooth (most people forget that part) you're not going to have issues about gas gain unless the volts get pretty high. I use anything stiff, and like tungsten TIG rods. Heck, with one that has the thorium doping, you might be done right then! But then you'd have to make the thing large diameter so most of the alphas get absorbed in the gas before they hit the walls and knock out variable numbers of electrons. The Th in those isn't that much, so that might put you back in a bad signal to noise situation, just a thought.

Considering what you normally do for a living, am I making sense here? It's kind of the same, rooting out all the variabilities so you get a better result.

Yes, I had a good laugh on the keyboard wedgie -- but hey, if it works, it works. I've seen some projects that simply emulate the rather strange keyboad protocol too. But what I use for that kind of thing is this:

http://www.coultersmithing.com/OldStuff ... gmoth.html

There is windows software (last I checked, been awhile) to redirect a serial port to look like a keyboard, and in linux (which is what I use) well, its "mine to toy with". The board is pretty simple to use with our opsys and driver collection. Windows has recently made it a little tougher for an app written in a grown up language to have hardware access -- their security model is not to fix the insides but make it hard to get to the insides. Thus, custom drivers or even talking to a serial port are kinda getting hard to do there outside of VB and that activeX control, assuming that still "works" as well as it used to (not that well). The pic has two rs232 outputs, we send one to a PC and hold the other one back for printf debugging uses.

We are doing a lot with pics here, and a little perl shoves the rs232 coming out of them into a mysql database, and now open office can talk straight to that -- all separate processes, very nice results and flexibility. Perl's not great for big complex programs but it's the worlds most fantastic duct-tape. We do C and asm in the pics.
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Re: Solar Flare/ Radioactive Decay Rate Link

Postby charleswenzel » Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:32 am

I finished the new chamber and it's stabilizing in the oven. I discovered that my previous chamber voltage was low, so I bumped it up to 50 volts. I switched polarity to collect electrons and the reading only increased slightly, so I'm probably getting most of them. I'm getting h healthy 100 pA and that drops to nearly zero with a cover over the americium. So far, the minute-to-minute variations are about 0.1%, or about 3 times better than before. That's a pretty short time scale, so, if it draws a straight line, I'll be able to see well below 0.1% So far, so good. But time will tell. Tomorrow, there will be a big, mysterious sawtooth in the data, if history is any indicator!
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