HOME

TheInfoList




A gamma ray, also known as gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of
electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. ...

electromagnetic radiation
arising from the
radioactive decay Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation. A material containing unstable nuclei is conside ...

radioactive decay
of
atomic nuclei The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom, discovered in 1911 by Ernest Rutherford based on the 1909 Geiger-Marsden experiments, Geiger–Marsden gold foil experiment. After the d ...
. It consists of the shortest wavelength electromagnetic waves, typically shorter than those of
X-ray An X-ray, or, much less commonly, X-radiation, is a penetrating form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10 Picometre, picometers to 10 Nanometre, nanometers, corresponding to frequency ...

X-ray
s. With
frequencies Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time A unit of time is any particular time Time is the indefinite continued sequence, progress of existence and event (philosophy), events that occur in an apparent ...

frequencies
above 30 exahertz (), it imparts the highest
photon energyPhoton energy is the energy In physics, energy is the physical quantity, quantitative physical property, property that must be #Energy transfer, transferred to a physical body, body or physical system to perform Work (thermodynamics), work on ...
. Paul Villard, a French
chemist A chemist (from Greek ''chēm(ía)'' alchemy; replacing ''chymist'' from Medieval Latin Medieval Latin was the form of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European l ...

chemist
and
physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts scientific research The scientific method is an Empirical evidence, empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at leas ...

physicist
, discovered gamma radiation in 1900 while studying
radiation upThe international symbol for types and levels of ionizing radiation (radioactivity) that are unsafe for unshielded humans. Radiation, in general, exists throughout nature, such as in light and sound. In physics Physics (from grc ...

radiation
emitted by
radium Radium is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elem ...

radium
. In 1903,
Ernest Rutherford Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, (30 August 1871 – 19 October 1937) was a New Zealand-born British physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts Scientific method, scientific resea ...
named this radiation ''gamma rays'' based on their relatively strong penetration of
matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particl ...
; in 1900 he had already named two less penetrating types of decay radiation (discovered by
Henri Becquerel Antoine Henri Becquerel (; 15 December 1852 – 25 August 1908) was a French engineer, physicist, Nobel laureate, and the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity. For work in this field he, along with Marie Skłodowska-Curie (Mar ...

Henri Becquerel
)
alpha rays
alpha rays
and beta rays in ascending order of penetrating power. Gamma rays from radioactive decay are in the energy range from a few kiloelectronvolts (
keV In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular suc ...
) to approximately 8 megaelectronvolts (~8 
MeV In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "P ...
), corresponding to the typical energy levels in nuclei with reasonably long lifetimes. The energy spectrum of gamma rays can be used to identify the decaying
radionuclides A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is a nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from nucleus, also known as nuclear species) is a class of atoms characterized by their number of proton A proton is a subatomic par ...
using
gamma spectroscopy Gamma-ray spectroscopy is the quantitative study of the energy spectra of gamma-ray sources, such as in the nuclear industry, geochemical investigation, and astrophysics. Most radioactive sources produce gamma rays, which are of various energie ...
.
Very-high-energy gamma ray Very-high-energy gamma ray (VHEGR) denotes gamma radiation A gamma ray, or gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay Radioactive decay (also known as nuc ...
s in the 100–1000 teraelectronvolt (
TeV TEV may refer to: * Transient Earth Voltage: a term for voltages appearing on the metal work of switchgear In an electric power system, switchgear is composed of electrical disconnect switches, fuses or circuit breakers used to control, pr ...
) range have been observed from sources such as the
Cygnus X-3 Cygnus X-3 is a high-mass X-ray binary ( HMXB), one of the stronger binary X-ray sources in the sky. It is often considered to be a microquasar, and it is believed to be a compact object in a binary system which is pulling in a stream o ...

Cygnus X-3
microquasar Artist's impression of the microquasar SS 433 A microquasar, the smaller version of a quasar A quasar (; also known as a quasi-stellar object, abbreviated QSO) is an extremely luminous active galactic nucleus (AGN), in which a supermassive b ...
. Natural sources of gamma rays originating on Earth are mostly a result of radioactive decay and secondary radiation from atmospheric interactions with
cosmic ray Cosmic rays are high-energy proton A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a positive electric charge of +1''e'' elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Protons and neutrons, each with masses of approx ...
particles. However, there are other rare natural sources, such as
terrestrial gamma-ray flash A terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF) is a burst of gamma rays produced in Earth's atmosphere. TGFs have been recorded to last 0.2 to 3.5 milliseconds, and have energy, energies of up to 20 million electronvolts. It is speculated that TGFs are cau ...
es, which produce gamma rays from electron action upon the nucleus. Notable artificial sources of gamma rays include
fission Fission, a splitting of something into two or more parts, may refer to: Biology * Fission (biology), division of a single entity into two or more parts and the regeneration of those parts into separate entities resembling the original * Mitochondri ...

fission
, such as that which occurs in
nuclear reactor A nuclear reactor, formerly known as an atomic pile, is a device used to initiate and control a fission nuclear chain reaction or nuclear fusion reactions. Nuclear reactors are used at nuclear power plants for electricity generation and in nucle ...

nuclear reactor
s, and
high energy physics Particle physics (also known as high energy physics) is a branch of physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that ...
experiments, such as
neutral pion decay
neutral pion decay
and
nuclear fusion 400 px, The nuclear binding energy curve. The formation of nuclei with masses up to iron-56 releases energy, as illustrated above. Nuclear fusion is a nuclear reaction, reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or m ...

nuclear fusion
. Gamma rays and
X-ray An X-ray, or, much less commonly, X-radiation, is a penetrating form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10 Picometre, picometers to 10 Nanometre, nanometers, corresponding to frequency ...

X-ray
s are both electromagnetic radiation, and since they overlap in the
electromagnetic spectrum The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of frequencies Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time A unit of time is any particular time Time is the indefinite continued sequence, progress of existe ...

electromagnetic spectrum
, the terminology varies between scientific disciplines. In some fields of physics, they are distinguished by their origin: Gamma rays are created by nuclear decay while X-rays originate outside the nucleus. In
astrophysics Astrophysics is a science that employs the methods and principles of physics in the study of astronomical objects and phenomena. Among the subjects studied are the Sun, other stars, galaxy, galaxies, extrasolar planets, the interstellar medium and ...
, gamma rays are conventionally defined as having photon energies above 100 
keV In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular suc ...
and are the subject of
gamma ray astronomy Gamma-ray astronomy is the astronomical observation of gamma ray A gamma ray, or gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. It consists ...
, while radiation below 100 keV is classified as X-rays and is the subject of
X-ray astronomy X-ray astronomy is an observational branch of astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects ...
. Gamma rays are
ionizing radiation Ionizing radiation (or ionising radiation), including nuclear radiation, consists of s or s that have sufficient to s or s by detaching s from them. The particles generally travel at a speed that is greater than 1% of , and the electromagnetic w ...
and are thus hazardous to life. Due to their high penetration power, they can damage bone marrow and internal organs. Unlike alpha and beta rays, they easily pass through the body and thus pose a formidable
radiation protection Radiation protection, also known as radiological protection, is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as "The protection of people from harmful effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, and the means for achieving this". Exposur ...
challenge, requiring shielding made from dense materials such as lead or concrete. On
Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 70.8% is Water distribution on Earth, covered wi ...

Earth
, the
magnetosphere In astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects and celestial event, phenomena. It uses m ...
protects life from most types of lethal cosmic radiation other than gamma rays, which are absorbed by 0.53 bars of atmosphere as they penetrate the atmosphere. Gamma rays cannot be reflected by a mirror and their wavelengths are so small that they will pass between the atoms in a detector.


History of discovery

The first gamma ray source to be discovered was the
radioactive decay Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation. A material containing unstable nuclei is conside ...

radioactive decay
process called ''gamma decay''. In this type of decay, an excited nucleus emits a gamma ray almost immediately upon formation.It is now understood that a nuclear
isomeric transition A nuclear isomer is a metastable In chemistry Chemistry is the science, scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science that covers the Chemical element, elements that make up matter to the chemical c ...
, however, can produce inhibited gamma decay with a measurable and much longer half-life.
Paul Villard
Paul Villard
, a French chemist and physicist, discovered gamma radiation in 1900, while studying radiation emitted from
radium Radium is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elem ...

radium
. Villard knew that his described radiation was more powerful than previously described types of rays from radium, which included beta rays, first noted as "radioactivity" by
Henri Becquerel Antoine Henri Becquerel (; 15 December 1852 – 25 August 1908) was a French engineer, physicist, Nobel laureate, and the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity. For work in this field he, along with Marie Skłodowska-Curie (Mar ...

Henri Becquerel
in 1896, and alpha rays, discovered as a less penetrating form of radiation by Rutherford, in 1899. However, Villard did not consider naming them as a different fundamental type. Later, in 1903, Villard's radiation was recognized as being of a type fundamentally different from previously named rays by
Ernest Rutherford Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, (30 August 1871 – 19 October 1937) was a New Zealand-born British physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts Scientific method, scientific resea ...
, who named Villard's rays "gamma rays" by analogy with the beta and alpha rays that Rutherford had differentiated in 1899. The "rays" emitted by radioactive elements were named in order of their power to penetrate various materials, using the first three letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha rays as the least penetrating, followed by beta rays, followed by gamma rays as the most penetrating. Rutherford also noted that gamma rays were not deflected (or at least, not deflected) by a magnetic field, another property making them unlike alpha and beta rays. Gamma rays were first thought to be particles with mass, like alpha and beta rays. Rutherford initially believed that they might be extremely fast beta particles, but their failure to be deflected by a magnetic field indicated that they had no charge. In 1914, gamma rays were observed to be reflected from crystal surfaces, proving that they were electromagnetic radiation. Rutherford and his co-worker
Edward Andrade Edward Neville da Costa Andrade FRS (27 December 1887 – 6 June 1971) was an English physicist, writer, and poet. He told ''The Literary Digest'' his name was pronounced "as written, i.e., like ''air raid'', with ''and'' substituted for ''ai ...
measured the wavelengths of gamma rays from radium, and found they were similar to
X-ray An X-ray, or, much less commonly, X-radiation, is a penetrating form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10 Picometre, picometers to 10 Nanometre, nanometers, corresponding to frequency ...

X-ray
s, but with shorter wavelengths and thus, higher frequency. This was eventually recognized as giving them more energy per
photon The photon ( el, φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle In , an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include the fundamental s ...

photon
, as soon as the latter term became generally accepted. A gamma decay was then understood to usually emit a gamma photon.


Sources

Natural sources of gamma rays on Earth include gamma decay from naturally occurring
radioisotope A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is a nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from nucleus, also known as nuclear species) is a class of atoms characterized by their number of proton A proton is a subatomic par ...
s such as
potassium-40 Potassium-40 (40K) is a radioactive isotope of potassium which has a long half-life of 1.251 years. It makes up 0.012% (120 parts-per notation, ppm) of the total amount of potassium found in nature. Potassium-40 is a rare example of an isotope th ...

potassium-40
, and also as a secondary radiation from various atmospheric interactions with
cosmic ray Cosmic rays are high-energy proton A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a positive electric charge of +1''e'' elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Protons and neutrons, each with masses of approx ...
particles. Some rare terrestrial natural sources that produce gamma rays that are not of a nuclear origin, are
lightning strike A lightning strike or lightning bolt is an electric discharge An electric discharge is the release and transmission of electricity in an applied electric field through a medium such as a gas.American Geophysical Union, National Research Council ( ...

lightning strike
s and
terrestrial gamma-ray flash A terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF) is a burst of gamma rays produced in Earth's atmosphere. TGFs have been recorded to last 0.2 to 3.5 milliseconds, and have energy, energies of up to 20 million electronvolts. It is speculated that TGFs are cau ...
es, which produce high energy emissions from natural high-energy voltages. Gamma rays are produced by a number of astronomical processes in which very high-energy electrons are produced. Such electrons produce secondary gamma rays by the mechanisms of ''
bremsstrahlung ''Bremsstrahlung'' (), from "to brake" and "radiation"; i.e., "braking radiation" or "deceleration radiation", is electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fund ...

bremsstrahlung
'', inverse
Compton scattering Compton scattering, discovered by Arthur Holly Compton, is the scattering of a photon The photon (Greek: φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle. It is the quantum of the electromagnetic field including electromagnetic radiat ...

Compton scattering
and
synchrotron radiation Synchrotron radiation (also known as magnetobremsstrahlung radiation) is the electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physic ...
. A large fraction of such astronomical gamma rays are screened by Earth's atmosphere. Notable artificial sources of gamma rays include
fission Fission, a splitting of something into two or more parts, may refer to: Biology * Fission (biology), division of a single entity into two or more parts and the regeneration of those parts into separate entities resembling the original * Mitochondri ...

fission
, such as occurs in
nuclear reactor A nuclear reactor, formerly known as an atomic pile, is a device used to initiate and control a fission nuclear chain reaction or nuclear fusion reactions. Nuclear reactors are used at nuclear power plants for electricity generation and in nucle ...

nuclear reactor
s, as well as
high energy physics Particle physics (also known as high energy physics) is a branch of physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that ...
experiments, such as and
nuclear fusion 400 px, The nuclear binding energy curve. The formation of nuclei with masses up to iron-56 releases energy, as illustrated above. Nuclear fusion is a nuclear reaction, reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or m ...

nuclear fusion
. A sample of gamma ray-emitting material that is used for irradiating or imaging is known as a gamma source. It is also called a
radioactive source A radioactive source is a known quantity of a radionuclide which emits ionizing radiation; typically one or more of the radiation types gamma rays, alpha particles, beta particles, and neutron radiation Neutron radiation is a form of ionizing ...
, isotope source, or radiation source, though these more general terms also apply to alpha and beta-emitting devices. Gamma sources are usually sealed to prevent
radioactive contamination represents two-thirds of the United States' high-level radioactive waste by volume. Nuclear reactors line the riverbank at the Hanford Site along the Columbia River in January 1960. Radioactive contamination, also called radiological contaminatio ...
, and transported in heavy shielding.


Radioactive decay (gamma decay)

Gamma rays are produced during gamma decay, which normally occurs after other forms of decay occur, such as
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ''álpha'', modern pronunciation ''álfa'') is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A s ...

alpha
or
beta Beta (, ; uppercase , lowercase , or ; grc, βῆτα, bē̂ta or ell, βήτα, víta) is the second letter of the . In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 2. In , beta represented the . In , it represents the (while in foreig ...

beta
decay. A radioactive nucleus can decay by the emission of an

or particle. The daughter nucleus that results is usually left in an excited state. It can then decay to a lower energy state by emitting a gamma ray photon, in a process called gamma decay. The emission of a gamma ray from an excited nucleus typically requires only 10−12 seconds. Gamma decay may also follow
nuclear reaction In nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and t ...
s such as
neutron capture Neutron capture is a nuclear reaction In nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion a ...
,
nuclear fission Nuclear fission is a in which the of an splits into two or more smaller . The fission process often produces s, and releases a very large amount of even by the energetic standards of . Nuclear fission of heavy elements was discovered on ...

nuclear fission
, or nuclear fusion. Gamma decay is also a mode of relaxation of many excited states of atomic nuclei following other types of radioactive decay, such as beta decay, so long as these states possess the necessary component of nuclear
spin Spin or spinning may refer to: Businesses * or South Pacific Island Network * , an American scooter-sharing system * , a chain of table tennis lounges Computing * , 's tool for formal verification of distributed software systems * , a Mach-like ...
. When high-energy gamma rays, electrons, or protons bombard materials, the excited atoms emit characteristic "secondary" gamma rays, which are products of the creation of excited nuclear states in the bombarded atoms. Such transitions, a form of nuclear gamma
fluorescence light. Fluorescence is the emission of light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be visual perception, perceived by the human eye. Visible light is usually defi ...

fluorescence
, form a topic in
nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related ent ...
called
gamma spectroscopy Gamma-ray spectroscopy is the quantitative study of the energy spectra of gamma-ray sources, such as in the nuclear industry, geochemical investigation, and astrophysics. Most radioactive sources produce gamma rays, which are of various energie ...
. Formation of fluorescent gamma rays are a rapid subtype of radioactive gamma decay. In certain cases, the excited nuclear state that follows the emission of a beta particle or other type of excitation, may be more stable than average, and is termed a
metastable In chemistry Chemistry is the science, scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science that covers the Chemical element, elements that make up matter to the chemical compound, compounds composed of atoms ...
excited state, if its decay takes (at least) 100 to 1000 times longer than the average 10−12 seconds. Such relatively long-lived excited nuclei are termed
nuclear isomer A nuclear isomer is a state of an , in which one or more s (protons or neutrons) occupy than in the ground state of the same nucleus. "Metastable" describes nuclei whose excited states have 100 to 1000 times longer than the half-lives of the e ...
s, and their decays are termed
isomeric transition A nuclear isomer is a metastable In chemistry Chemistry is the science, scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science that covers the Chemical element, elements that make up matter to the chemical c ...
s. Such nuclei have
half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents an ...
s that are more easily measurable, and rare nuclear isomers are able to stay in their excited state for minutes, hours, days, or occasionally far longer, before emitting a gamma ray. The process of isomeric transition is therefore similar to any gamma emission, but differs in that it involves the intermediate metastable excited state(s) of the nuclei. Metastable states are often characterized by high
nuclear spin In nuclear physics, atomic physics, and nuclear chemistry, the nuclear shell model is a nuclear model, model of the atomic nucleus which uses the Pauli exclusion principle to describe the structure of the nucleus in terms of energy levels. The f ...
, requiring a change in spin of several units or more with gamma decay, instead of a single unit transition that occurs in only 10−12 seconds. The rate of gamma decay is also slowed when the energy of excitation of the nucleus is small. An emitted gamma ray from any type of excited state may transfer its energy directly to any
electron The electron is a subatomic particle (denoted by the symbol or ) whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation (particle physics), generation of the lepton particle family, and are general ...

electron
s, but most probably to one of the K shell electrons of the atom, causing it to be ejected from that atom, in a process generally termed the
photoelectric effect The photoelectric effect is the emission of electron The electron is a subatomic particle In physical sciences, subatomic particles are smaller than atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and ...

photoelectric effect
(external gamma rays and ultraviolet rays may also cause this effect). The photoelectric effect should not be confused with the
internal conversion Internal conversion is a non-radioactive decay process wherein an excited atomic nucleus, nucleus interacts electromagnetism, electromagnetically with one of the Atomic orbital, orbital electrons of the atom. This causes the electron to be emitted ...
process, in which a gamma ray photon is not produced as an intermediate particle (rather, a "virtual gamma ray" may be thought to mediate the process).


Decay schemes

One example of gamma ray production due to radionuclide decay is the decay scheme for cobalt-60, as illustrated in the accompanying diagram. First, decays to excited by
beta decay In , beta decay (''β''-decay) is a type of in which a (fast energetic or ) is emitted from an , transforming the original to an of that nuclide. For example, beta decay of a transforms it into a by the emission of an electron accompanie ...
emission of an electron of . Then the excited decays to the ground state (see
nuclear shell model#REDIRECT Nuclear shell model In nuclear physics, atomic physics, and nuclear chemistry, the nuclear shell model is a nuclear model, model of the atomic nucleus which uses the Pauli exclusion principle to describe the structure of the nucleus in ...
) by emitting gamma rays in succession of 1.17 MeV followed by . This path is followed 99.88% of the time: : Another example is the alpha decay of to form ; which is followed by gamma emission. In some cases, the gamma emission spectrum of the daughter nucleus is quite simple, (e.g. /) while in other cases, such as with (/ and /), the gamma emission spectrum is complex, revealing that a series of nuclear energy levels exist.


Particle physics

Gamma rays are produced in many processes of
particle physics Particle physics (also known as high energy physics) is a branch of that studies the nature of the particles that constitute and . Although the word ' can refer to various types of very small objects (e.g. , gas particles, or even household d ...
. Typically, gamma rays are the products of neutral systems which decay through
electromagnetic interaction Electromagnetism is a branch of physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related ...
s (rather than a weak or strong interaction). For example, in an
electron–positron annihilation Electron–positron annihilation occurs when an electron The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , whose electric charge Electric charge is the physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when placed in an elect ...
, the usual products are two gamma ray photons. If the annihilating electron and
positron The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle s (left) and antiparticles (right). From top to bottom; electron The electron is a subatomic particle In physical sciences, subatomic particles are smaller than atom An atom is ...

positron
are at rest, each of the resulting gamma rays has an energy of ~ 511
keV In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular suc ...
and frequency of ~ . Similarly, a neutral
pion In particle physics Particle physics (also known as high energy physics) is a branch of physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is th ...

pion
most often decays into two photons. Many other
hadron In particle physics Particle physics (also known as high energy physics) is a branch of physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the ...
s and massive
boson In quantum mechanics, a boson (, ) is a particle that follows Bose–Einstein statistics. Bosons make up one of two classes of elementary particles, the other being fermions. The name boson was coined by Paul Dirac to commemorate the contributi ...

boson
s also decay electromagnetically. High energy physics experiments, such as the
Large Hadron Collider The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest and highest-energy particle collider A collider is a type of particle accelerator , a synchrotron collider type particle accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) ...
, accordingly employ substantial radiation shielding. Because
subatomic particle In physical sciences, subatomic particles are smaller than atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All ...
s mostly have far shorter wavelengths than atomic nuclei, particle physics gamma rays are generally several orders of magnitude more energetic than nuclear decay gamma rays. Since gamma rays are at the top of the electromagnetic spectrum in terms of energy, all extremely high-energy photons are gamma rays; for example, a photon having the Planck energy would be a gamma ray.


Other sources

A few gamma rays in astronomy are known to arise from gamma decay (see discussion of
SN1987A SN 1987A was a type II supernova (bright spot on the lower left), a type Ia supernova within its host galaxy, NGC 4526 A supernova ( plural: supernovae or supernovas, abbreviations: SN and SNe) is a powerful and luminous stellar explosion ...
), but most do not. Photons from astrophysical sources that carry energy in the gamma radiation range are often explicitly called gamma-radiation. In addition to nuclear emissions, they are often produced by sub-atomic particle and particle-photon interactions. Those include electron-positron annihilation, neutral pion decay,
bremsstrahlung ''Bremsstrahlung'' (), from "to brake" and "radiation"; i.e., "braking radiation" or "deceleration radiation", is electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fund ...

bremsstrahlung
, inverse
Compton scattering Compton scattering, discovered by Arthur Holly Compton, is the scattering of a photon The photon (Greek: φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle. It is the quantum of the electromagnetic field including electromagnetic radiat ...

Compton scattering
, and
synchrotron radiation Synchrotron radiation (also known as magnetobremsstrahlung radiation) is the electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physic ...
.


Laboratory sources

In October 2017, scientists from various European universities proposed a means for sources of GeV photons using lasers as exciters through a controlled interplay between the cascade and anomalous radiative trapping.


Terrestrial thunderstorms

Thunderstorm A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm or a lightning storm, is a storm characterized by the presence of lightning and its acoustics, acoustic effect on the Earth's atmosphere, known as thunder. Relatively weak thunderstorms are s ...

Thunderstorm
s can produce a brief pulse of gamma radiation called a
terrestrial gamma-ray flash A terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF) is a burst of gamma rays produced in Earth's atmosphere. TGFs have been recorded to last 0.2 to 3.5 milliseconds, and have energy, energies of up to 20 million electronvolts. It is speculated that TGFs are cau ...
. These gamma rays are thought to be produced by high intensity static electric fields accelerating electrons, which then produce gamma rays by
bremsstrahlung ''Bremsstrahlung'' (), from "to brake" and "radiation"; i.e., "braking radiation" or "deceleration radiation", is electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fund ...

bremsstrahlung
as they collide with and are slowed by atoms in the atmosphere. Gamma rays up to 100 MeV can be emitted by terrestrial thunderstorms, and were discovered by space-borne observatories. This raises the possibility of health risks to passengers and crew on aircraft flying in or near thunderclouds.


Solar flares

The most effusive
solar flare A solar flare is a sudden flash of increased brightness on the Sun, usually observed near its surface and in close proximity to a sunspot group. Powerful flares are often, but not always, accompanied by a coronal mass ejection. Even the most ...

solar flare
s emit across the entire EM spectrum, including γ-rays. The first confident observation occurred in
1972 Within the context of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) it was the longest year ever, as two leap seconds were added during this 366-day year, an event which has not since been repeated. (If its start and end are defined using Solar time, mean ...
.


Cosmic rays

Extraterrestrial, high energy gamma rays include the gamma ray background produced when cosmic rays (either high speed electrons or protons) collide with ordinary matter, producing pair-production gamma rays at 511 keV. Alternatively,
bremsstrahlung ''Bremsstrahlung'' (), from "to brake" and "radiation"; i.e., "braking radiation" or "deceleration radiation", is electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fund ...

bremsstrahlung
are produced at energies of tens of MeV or more when cosmic ray electrons interact with nuclei of sufficiently high atomic number (see gamma ray image of the Moon near the end of this article, for illustration).


Pulsars and magnetars

The gamma ray sky (see illustration at right) is dominated by the more common and longer-term production of gamma rays that emanate from
pulsar A pulsar (from ''pulsating radio source'') is a highly magnetized rotating neutron star A neutron star is the collapsed core of a massive supergiant star, which had a total mass of between 10 and 25 solar masses, possibly more if the s ...

pulsar
s within the Milky Way. Sources from the rest of the sky are mostly
quasar A quasar (; also known as a quasi-stellar object, abbreviated QSO) is an extremely luminous active galactic nucleus An active galactic nucleus (AGN) is a compact region at the center of a galaxy A galaxy is a gravitation Gravity () ...

quasar
s. Pulsars are thought to be neutron stars with magnetic fields that produce focused beams of radiation, and are far less energetic, more common, and much nearer sources (typically seen only in our own galaxy) than are quasars or the rarer
gamma-ray burst In gamma-ray astronomy, gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are immensely energetic explosions that have been observed in distant galaxies. They are the brightest and most energetic electromagnetic events known to occur in the universe. Bursts can last f ...
sources of gamma rays. Pulsars have relatively long-lived magnetic fields that produce focused beams of relativistic speed charged particles, which emit gamma rays (bremsstrahlung) when those strike gas or dust in their nearby medium, and are decelerated. This is a similar mechanism to the production of high-energy photons in megavoltage
radiation therapy Radiation therapy or radiotherapy, often abbreviated RT, RTx, or XRT, is a therapy using ionizing radiation Ionizing radiation (or ionising radiation), including nuclear radiation, consists of subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves that h ...

radiation therapy
machines (see
bremsstrahlung ''Bremsstrahlung'' (), from "to brake" and "radiation"; i.e., "braking radiation" or "deceleration radiation", is electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fund ...

bremsstrahlung
).
Inverse Compton scattering Compton scattering, discovered by Arthur Compton, Arthur Holly Compton, is the scattering of a photon by a electric charge, charged particle, usually an electron. If it results in a decrease in energy (increase in wavelength) of the photon (which ...
, in which charged particles (usually electrons) impart energy to low-energy photons boosting them to higher energy photons. Such impacts of photons on relativistic charged particle beams is another possible mechanism of gamma ray production. Neutron stars with a very high magnetic field (
magnetar A magnetar is a type of neutron star believed to have an extremely powerful magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field that describes the magnetic influence on moving electric charges, electric currents, and magnetic materials. A mo ...

magnetar
s), thought to produce astronomical
soft gamma repeater A soft gamma repeater (SGR) is an astronomical object which emits large bursts of gamma-rays and X-ray An X-ray, or X-radiation, is a penetrating form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10&nbs ...
s, are another relatively long-lived star-powered source of gamma radiation.


Quasars and active galaxies

More powerful gamma rays from very distant
quasar A quasar (; also known as a quasi-stellar object, abbreviated QSO) is an extremely luminous active galactic nucleus An active galactic nucleus (AGN) is a compact region at the center of a galaxy A galaxy is a gravitation Gravity () ...

quasar
s and closer active galaxies are thought to have a gamma ray production source similar to a
particle accelerator , a synchrotron collider type particle accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), Batavia, Illinois, USA. Shut down in 2011, until 2007 it was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, accelerating protons to an en ...
. High energy electrons produced by the quasar, and subjected to inverse Compton scattering,
synchrotron radiation Synchrotron radiation (also known as magnetobremsstrahlung radiation) is the electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physic ...
, or bremsstrahlung, are the likely source of the gamma rays from those objects. It is thought that a
supermassive black hole A supermassive black hole (SMBH or sometimes SBH) is the largest type of black hole, with mass Mass is both a property Property (''latin: Res Privata'') in the Abstract and concrete, abstract is what belongs to or with something, whet ...

supermassive black hole
at the center of such galaxies provides the power source that intermittently destroys stars and focuses the resulting charged particles into beams that emerge from their rotational poles. When those beams interact with gas, dust, and lower energy photons they produce X-rays and gamma rays. These sources are known to fluctuate with durations of a few weeks, suggesting their relatively small size (less than a few light-weeks across). Such sources of gamma and X-rays are the most commonly visible high intensity sources outside our galaxy. They shine not in bursts (see illustration), but relatively continuously when viewed with gamma ray telescopes. The power of a typical quasar is about 1040 watts, a small fraction of which is gamma radiation. Much of the rest is emitted as electromagnetic waves of all frequencies, including radio waves.


Gamma-ray bursts

The most intense sources of gamma rays, are also the most intense sources of any type of electromagnetic radiation presently known. They are the "long duration burst" sources of gamma rays in astronomy ("long" in this context, meaning a few tens of seconds), and they are rare compared with the sources discussed above. By contrast, "short"
gamma-ray burst In gamma-ray astronomy, gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are immensely energetic explosions that have been observed in distant galaxies. They are the brightest and most energetic electromagnetic events known to occur in the universe. Bursts can last f ...
s of two seconds or less, which are not associated with supernovae, are thought to produce gamma rays during the collision of pairs of neutron stars, or a neutron star and a . The so-called ''long-duration'' gamma-ray bursts produce a total energy output of about 1044 joules (as much energy as our
Sun The Sun is the star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held together by its own gravity. The List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs, nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many othe ...

Sun
will produce in its entire life-time) but in a period of only 20 to 40 seconds. Gamma rays are approximately 50% of the total energy output. The leading hypotheses for the mechanism of production of these highest-known intensity beams of radiation, are inverse
Compton scattering Compton scattering, discovered by Arthur Holly Compton, is the scattering of a photon The photon (Greek: φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle. It is the quantum of the electromagnetic field including electromagnetic radiat ...

Compton scattering
and
synchrotron radiation Synchrotron radiation (also known as magnetobremsstrahlung radiation) is the electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physic ...
from high-energy charged particles. These processes occur as relativistic charged particles leave the region of the event horizon of a newly formed created during supernova explosion. The beam of particles moving at relativistic speeds are focused for a few tens of seconds by the magnetic field of the exploding
hypernova A hypernova (sometimes called a collapsar) is a very energetic supernova thought to result from an extreme core-collapse scenario. In this case, a massive star (>30 solar masses) collapses to form a rotating black hole emitting twin energetic jet ...

hypernova
. The fusion explosion of the hypernova drives the energetics of the process. If the narrowly directed beam happens to be pointed toward the Earth, it shines at gamma ray frequencies with such intensity, that it can be detected even at distances of up to 10 billion light years, which is close to the edge of the
visible universe The observable universe is a Ball (mathematics), ball-shaped region of the universe comprising all matter that can be observation, observed from Earth or its space-based telescopes and exploratory probes at the present time, because the electromag ...
.


Properties


Penetration of matter

Due to their penetrating nature, gamma rays require large amounts of shielding mass to reduce them to levels which are not harmful to living cells, in contrast to
alpha particle Alpha particles, also called alpha rays or alpha radiation, consist of two proton A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a positive electric charge of +1''e'' elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Proton ...

alpha particle
s, which can be stopped by paper or skin, and
beta particle A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation (symbol β), is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β ...
s, which can be shielded by thin aluminium. Gamma rays are best absorbed by materials with high
atomic number 300px, The Rutherford–Bohr model of the hydrogen atom () or a hydrogen-like ion (). In this model it is an essential feature that the photon energy (or frequency) of the electromagnetic radiation emitted (shown) when an electron jumps from one ...
s (''Z'') and high density, which contribute to the total stopping power. Because of this, a lead (high ''Z'') shield is 20–30% better as a gamma shield than an equal mass of another low-''Z'' shielding material, such as aluminium, concrete, water, or soil; lead's major advantage is not in lower weight, but rather its compactness due to its higher density. Protective clothing, goggles and respirators can protect from internal contact with or ingestion of alpha or beta emitting particles, but provide no protection from gamma radiation from external sources. The higher the energy of the gamma rays, the thicker the shielding made from the same shielding material is required. Materials for shielding gamma rays are typically measured by the thickness required to reduce the intensity of the gamma rays by one half (the half value layer or HVL). For example, gamma rays that require (0.4″) of
lead Lead is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol Pb (from the Latin ) and atomic number 82. It is a heavy metals, heavy metal that is density, denser than most common materials. Lead is Mohs scale of mineral hardness#Intermediate h ...

lead
to reduce their intensity by 50% will also have their intensity reduced in half by of
granite Granite () is a coarse-grained (phaneritic A phanerite is an igneous rock Igneous rock (derived from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Lat ...

granite
rock, 6 cm (2½″) of
concrete Concrete is a composed of fine and coarse bonded together with a fluid (cement paste) that hardens (cures) over time. Concrete is the second-most-used substance in the world after water, and is the most widely used building material. Its ...

concrete
, or 9 cm (3½″) of packed
soil Surface-water- gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland.">Northern_Ireland.html" ;"title="glacial till, Northern Ireland">glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms tha ...

soil
. However, the mass of this much concrete or soil is only 20–30% greater than that of lead with the same absorption capability.
Depleted uranium Depleted uranium (DU; also referred to in the past as Q-metal, depletalloy or D-38) is uranium Uranium is a chemical element upright=1.0, 500px, The chemical elements ordered by link=Periodic table In chemistry Chemistry is ...
is used for shielding in , but here the savings in weight over lead are larger, In a nuclear power plant, shielding can be provided by steel and concrete in the pressure and particle containment vessel, while water provides a radiation shielding of fuel rods during storage or transport into the reactor core. The loss of water or removal of a "hot" fuel assembly into the air would result in much higher radiation levels than when kept under water.


Matter interaction

When a gamma ray passes through matter, the probability for absorption is proportional to the thickness of the layer, the density of the material, and the absorption cross section of the material. The total absorption shows an of intensity with distance from the incident surface: :I(x)= I_0 \cdot e ^ where x is the thickness of the material from the incident surface, μ= ''n''σ is the absorption coefficient, measured in cm−1, ''n'' the number of atoms per cm3 of the material (atomic density) and σ the absorption
cross section Cross section may refer to: * Cross section (geometry), the intersection of a 3-dimensional body with a plane * Cross section (electronics), a common sample preparation technique in electronics * Cross section (geology), the intersection of a 3-dim ...
in cm2. As it passes through matter, gamma radiation ionizes via three processes: *The
photoelectric effect The photoelectric effect is the emission of electron The electron is a subatomic particle In physical sciences, subatomic particles are smaller than atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and ...

photoelectric effect
: This describes the case in which a gamma photon interacts with and transfers its energy to an atomic electron, causing the ejection of that electron from the atom. The kinetic energy of the resulting
photoelectron The photoelectric effect is the emission of electron The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , whose electric charge Electric charge is the physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when placed in an electrom ...
is equal to the energy of the incident gamma photon minus the energy that originally bound the electron to the atom (binding energy). The photoelectric effect is the dominant energy transfer mechanism for X-ray and gamma ray photons with energies below 50 keV (thousand electronvolts), but it is much less important at higher energies. *
Compton scattering Compton scattering, discovered by Arthur Holly Compton, is the scattering of a photon The photon (Greek: φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle. It is the quantum of the electromagnetic field including electromagnetic radiat ...

Compton scattering
: This is an interaction in which an incident gamma photon loses enough energy to an atomic electron to cause its ejection, with the remainder of the original photon's energy emitted as a new, lower energy gamma photon whose emission direction is different from that of the incident gamma photon, hence the term "scattering". The probability of Compton scattering decreases with increasing photon energy. Compton scattering is thought to be the principal absorption mechanism for gamma rays in the intermediate energy range 100 keV to 10 MeV. Compton scattering is relatively independent of the
atomic number 300px, The Rutherford–Bohr model of the hydrogen atom () or a hydrogen-like ion (). In this model it is an essential feature that the photon energy (or frequency) of the electromagnetic radiation emitted (shown) when an electron jumps from one ...
of the absorbing material, which is why very dense materials like lead are only modestly better shields, on a ''per weight'' basis, than are less dense materials. *
Pair production Pair production is the creation of a subatomic particle and its antiparticle from a neutral boson In quantum mechanics Quantum mechanics is a fundamental Scientific theory, theory in physics that provides a description of the physical ...

Pair production
: This becomes possible with gamma energies exceeding 1.02 MeV, and becomes important as an absorption mechanism at energies over 5 MeV (see illustration at right, for lead). By interaction with the
electric field An electric field (sometimes E-field) is the physical field that surrounds electrically-charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' ' ...

electric field
of a nucleus, the energy of the incident photon is converted into the mass of an electron-positron pair. Any gamma energy in excess of the equivalent rest mass of the two particles (totaling at least 1.02 MeV) appears as the kinetic energy of the pair and in the recoil of the emitting nucleus. At the end of the positron's
range Range may refer to: Geography * Range (geographic)A range, in geography, is a chain of hill A hill is a landform A landform is a natural or artificial feature of the solid surface of the Earth or other planetary body. Landforms together ...
, it combines with a free electron, and the two annihilate, and the entire mass of these two is then converted into two gamma photons of at least 0.51 MeV energy each (or higher according to the kinetic energy of the annihilated particles). The secondary electrons (and/or positrons) produced in any of these three processes frequently have enough energy to produce much
ionization Ionization or ionisation is the process by which an atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday ...
themselves. Additionally, gamma rays, particularly high energy ones, can interact with atomic nuclei resulting in ejection of particles in
photodisintegration Photodisintegration (also called phototransmutation, or a photonuclear reaction) is a nuclear process in which an atomic nucleus absorbs a high-energy gamma ray, enters an excited state, and immediately decays by emitting a subatomic particle. The i ...
, or in some cases, even nuclear fission (
photofission Photofission is a process in which a nucleus, after absorbing a gamma ray A gamma ray, or gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. It c ...
).


Light interaction

High-energy (from 80 GeV to ~10
TeV TEV may refer to: * Transient Earth Voltage: a term for voltages appearing on the metal work of switchgear In an electric power system, switchgear is composed of electrical disconnect switches, fuses or circuit breakers used to control, pr ...
) gamma rays arriving from far-distant quasars are used to estimate the extragalactic background light in the universe: The highest-energy rays interact more readily with the background light photons and thus the density of the background light may be estimated by analyzing the incoming gamma ray spectra.


Gamma spectroscopy

Gamma spectroscopy is the study of the energetic transitions in atomic nuclei, which are generally associated with the absorption or emission of gamma rays. As in optical
spectroscopy Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more objects have an effect upon one another. The idea of a two-way effect is essential in the concept of interaction, as opposed to a one-way ...

spectroscopy
(see Franck–Condon effect) the absorption of gamma rays by a nucleus is especially likely (i.e., peaks in a "resonance") when the energy of the gamma ray is the same as that of an energy transition in the nucleus. In the case of gamma rays, such a resonance is seen in the technique of
Mössbauer spectroscopy Mössbauer spectroscopy is a spectroscopic Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday ob ...
. In the Mössbauer effect the narrow resonance absorption for nuclear gamma absorption can be successfully attained by physically immobilizing atomic nuclei in a crystal. The immobilization of nuclei at both ends of a gamma resonance interaction is required so that no gamma energy is lost to the kinetic energy of recoiling nuclei at either the emitting or absorbing end of a gamma transition. Such loss of energy causes gamma ray resonance absorption to fail. However, when emitted gamma rays carry essentially all of the energy of the atomic nuclear de-excitation that produces them, this energy is also sufficient to excite the same energy state in a second immobilized nucleus of the same type.


Applications

Gamma rays provide information about some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe; however, they are largely absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere. Instruments aboard high-altitude balloons and satellites missions, such as the
Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (FGST), formerly called the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), is a space observatory being used to perform gamma-ray astronomy observations from low Earth orbit. Its main instrument is the Large Area ...

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope
, provide our only view of the universe in gamma rays. Gamma-induced molecular changes can also be used to alter the properties of
semi-precious stone A gemstone (also called a gem, fine gem, jewel, precious stone, or semi-precious stone) is a piece of mineral In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is a ...
s, and is often used to change white
topaz Topaz ( ) is a silicate mineral Silicate minerals are rock-forming mineral In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with ...

topaz
into blue topaz. Non-contact industrial sensors commonly use sources of gamma radiation in refining, mining, chemicals, food, soaps and detergents, and pulp and paper industries, for the measurement of levels, density, and thicknesses. Gamma-ray sensors are also used for measuring the fluid levels in water and oil industries. Typically, these use Co-60 or Cs-137 isotopes as the radiation source. In the US, gamma ray detectors are beginning to be used as part of the
Container Security Initiative The Container Security Initiative (CSI) was launched in 2002 by the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. Its purpose was to increase security for container cargo In econom ...
(CSI). These machines are advertised to be able to scan 30 containers per hour. Gamma radiation is often used to kill living organisms, in a process called
irradiation Irradiation is the process by which an object is exposed to radiation. The exposure can originate from various sources, including natural sources. Most frequently the term refers to ionizing radiation, and to a level of radiation that will serve a ...

irradiation
. Applications of this include the sterilization of medical equipment (as an alternative to
autoclave An autoclave is a machine used to carry out industrial and scientific processes requiring elevated temperature and pressure in relation to ambient pressure/Ambient temperature, temperature. Autoclaves are used in medical applications to perform ...

autoclave
s or chemical means), the removal of decay-causing
bacteria Bacteria (; common noun bacteria, singular bacterium) are ubiquitous, mostly free-living organisms often consisting of one Cell (biology), biological cell. They constitute a large domain (biology), domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typ ...

bacteria
from many foods and the prevention of the sprouting of fruit and vegetables to maintain freshness and flavor. Despite their cancer-causing properties, gamma rays are also used to treat some types of
cancer Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. These contrast with benign tumor A benign tumor is a mass of cells Cell most often refers to: * Cell (biolo ...

cancer
, since the rays also kill cancer cells. In the procedure called gamma-knife surgery, multiple concentrated beams of gamma rays are directed to the growth in order to kill the cancerous cells. The beams are aimed from different angles to concentrate the radiation on the growth while minimizing damage to surrounding tissues. Gamma rays are also used for diagnostic purposes in
nuclear medicine Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty A medical specialty is a branch of medical practice that is focused on a defined group of patients, diseases, skills, or philosophy. Examples include children (paediatrics Pediatrics (American and Briti ...
in imaging techniques. A number of different gamma-emitting radioisotopes are used. For example, in a
PET scan Positron emission tomography (PET) is a functional imaging Functional imaging (or physiological imaging), is a medical imaging technique of detecting or measuring changes in metabolism, blood flow, regional chemical composition, and absorption ...

PET scan
a radiolabeled sugar called fluorodeoxyglucose emits
positron The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle s (left) and antiparticles (right). From top to bottom; electron The electron is a subatomic particle In physical sciences, subatomic particles are smaller than atom An atom is ...

positron
s that are annihilated by electrons, producing pairs of gamma rays that highlight cancer as the cancer often has a higher metabolic rate than the surrounding tissues. The most common gamma emitter used in medical applications is the
nuclear isomer A nuclear isomer is a state of an , in which one or more s (protons or neutrons) occupy than in the ground state of the same nucleus. "Metastable" describes nuclei whose excited states have 100 to 1000 times longer than the half-lives of the e ...
technetium-99m Technetium-99m (99mTc) is a metastable nuclear isomer of technetium-99 (itself an isotope of technetium), symbolized as 99mTc, that is used in tens of millions of medical diagnostic procedures annually, making it the most commonly used Radiopharma ...
which emits gamma rays in the same energy range as diagnostic X-rays. When this radionuclide tracer is administered to a patient, a
gamma camera A gamma camera (γ-camera), also called a scintillation camera or Anger camera, is a device used to image gamma radiation emitting radioisotopes, a technique known as scintigraphy. The applications of scintigraphy include early drug development a ...

gamma camera
can be used to form an image of the radioisotope's distribution by detecting the gamma radiation emitted (see also
SPECT Single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT, or less commonly, SPET) is a nuclear medicine tomography, tomographic imaging technique using gamma rays. It is very similar to conventional nuclear medicine planar imaging using a gamma camera ...

SPECT
). Depending on which molecule has been labeled with the tracer, such techniques can be employed to diagnose a wide range of conditions (for example, the spread of cancer to the bones via
bone scan A bone scan or bone scintigraphy is a nuclear medicine Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty involving the application of radioactive substances in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Nuclear medicine imaging, in a sense, is "radiology ...

bone scan
).


Health effects

Gamma rays cause damage at a cellular level and are penetrating, causing diffuse damage throughout the body. However, they are less ionising than alpha or beta particles, which are less penetrating. Low levels of gamma rays cause a
stochastic Stochastic () refers to the property of being well described by a random In common parlance, randomness is the apparent or actual lack of pattern or predictability in events. A random sequence of events, symbols or steps often has no :wi ...
health risk, which for radiation dose assessment is defined as the ''probability'' of cancer induction and genetic damage. High doses produce
deterministic Determinism is the philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality Reality is the ...

deterministic
effects, which is the ''severity'' of acute tissue damage that is certain to happen. These effects are compared to the physical quantity
absorbed dose Absorbed dose is a dose quantity which is the measure of the energy deposited in matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be to ...
measured by the unit
gray Grey or gray (American English alternative; American and British English spelling differences#Miscellaneous spelling differences, see spelling differences) is an intermediate color between black and white. It is a neutral color or achromatic col ...
(Gy).


Body response

When gamma radiation breaks DNA molecules, a cell may be able to repair the damaged genetic material, within limits. However, a study of Rothkamm and Lobrich has shown that this repair process works well after high-dose exposure but is much slower in the case of a low-dose exposure.


Risk assessment

The natural outdoor exposure in the
United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer to use Britain as shorth ...

United Kingdom
ranges from 0.1 to 0.5 µSv/h with significant increase around known nuclear and contaminated sites. Natural exposure to gamma rays is about 1 to 2 mSv per year, and the average total amount of radiation received in one year per inhabitant in the USA is 3.6 mSv. There is a small increase in the dose, due to naturally occurring gamma radiation, around small particles of high atomic number materials in the human body caused by the photoelectric effect. By comparison, the radiation dose from chest
radiography Radiography is an imaging technology, imaging technique using X-rays, gamma rays, or similar ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation to view the internal form of an object. Applications of radiography include medical radiography ("diagnos ...
(about 0.06 mSv) is a fraction of the annual naturally occurring background radiation dose. A chest CT delivers 5 to 8 mSv. A whole-body
PET A pet, or companion animal, is an animal kept primarily for a person's company or entertainment rather than as a working animal, livestock or a laboratory animal. Popular pets are often considered to have attractive appearances, Animal cognitio ...
/CT scan can deliver 14 to 32 mSv depending on the protocol. The dose from
fluoroscopy Image:Normal barium swallow animation.gif, A barium swallow exam taken via fluoroscopy. Fluoroscopy () is an imaging technique that uses X-rays to obtain real-time moving images of the interior of an object. In its primary application of medical i ...

fluoroscopy
of the stomach is much higher, approximately 50 mSv (14 times the annual background). An acute full-body equivalent single exposure dose of 1 Sv (1000 mSv) causes slight blood changes, but 2.0–3.5 Sv (2.0–3.5 Gy) causes very severe syndrome of nausea, hair loss, and
hemorrhaging Bleeding, also known as a hemorrhage, haemorrhage, or simply blood loss, is blood Blood is a body fluid in humans and other animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrient A nutrient is a substance used by an organism to survi ...
, and will cause death in a sizable number of cases—-about 10% to 35% without medical treatment. A dose of 5 Sv (5 Gy) is considered approximately the LD50 (lethal dose for 50% of exposed population) for an acute exposure to radiation even with standard medical treatment. A dose higher than 5 Sv (5 Gy) brings an increasing chance of death above 50%. Above 7.5–10 Sv (7.5–10 Gy) to the entire body, even extraordinary treatment, such as bone-marrow transplants, will not prevent the death of the individual exposed (see
radiation poisoning Acute radiation syndrome (ARS), also known as radiation sickness or radiation poisoning, is a collection of health effects that are caused by being exposed to high absorbed dose, amounts of ionizing radiation, in a short period of time. The sympt ...
). (Doses much larger than this may, however, be delivered to selected parts of the body in the course of
radiation therapy Radiation therapy or radiotherapy, often abbreviated RT, RTx, or XRT, is a therapy using ionizing radiation Ionizing radiation (or ionising radiation), including nuclear radiation, consists of subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves that h ...

radiation therapy
.) For low-dose exposure, for example among nuclear workers, who receive an average yearly radiation dose of 19 mSv, the risk of dying from cancer (excluding
leukemia Leukemia ( also spelled leukaemia and pronounced ), is a group of blood cancer Tumors of the hematopoietic and lymphoid tissues (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or ...

leukemia
) increases by 2 percent. For a dose of 100 mSv, the risk increase is 10 percent. By comparison, risk of dying from cancer was increased by 32 percent for the survivors of the
atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki The United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945, respectively. The two bombings killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom were civilians, and remain the ...
.


Units of measurement and exposure

The following table shows radiation quantities in SI and non-SI units: The measure of the ionizing effect of gamma and X-rays in dry air is called the exposure, for which a legacy unit, the röntgen was used from 1928. This has been replaced by
kerma Kerma was the capital city of the Kerma culture, which was located in present-day Sudan at least 5500 years ago. Kerma is one of the largest archaeological sites in ancient Nubia. It has produced decades of extensive excavations and research, incl ...
, now mainly used for instrument calibration purposes but not for received dose effect. The effect of gamma and other ionizing radiation on living tissue is more closely related to the amount of
energy In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regula ...

energy
deposited in tissue rather than the ionisation of air, and replacement radiometric units and quantities for
radiation protection Radiation protection, also known as radiological protection, is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as "The protection of people from harmful effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, and the means for achieving this". Exposur ...
have been defined and developed from 1953 onwards. These are: *The
gray Grey or gray (American English alternative; American and British English spelling differences#Miscellaneous spelling differences, see spelling differences) is an intermediate color between black and white. It is a neutral color or achromatic col ...
(Gy), is the SI unit of
absorbed dose Absorbed dose is a dose quantity which is the measure of the energy deposited in matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be to ...
, which is the amount of radiation energy deposited in the irradiated material. For gamma radiation this is numerically equivalent to
equivalent dose Equivalent dose is a dose quantity '' H '' representing the stochastic Stochastic () refers to the property of being well described by a random In common parlance, randomness is the apparent or actual lack of pattern or predictability i ...
measured by the
sievert The sievert (symbol: SvNot be confused with the sverdrup In oceanography, the sverdrup (symbol: Sv) is a non-International System of Units, SI Metric_units#Volume_flow_rate, metric unit of Volumetric flow rate, flow, with equal to ; it is equ ...
, which indicates the stochastic biological effect of low levels of radiation on human tissue. The radiation weighting conversion factor from absorbed dose to equivalent dose is 1 for gamma, whereas alpha particles have a factor of 20, reflecting their greater ionising effect on tissue. *The rad is the deprecated unit for absorbed dose and the rem is the deprecated unit of equivalent dose, used mainly in the USA.


Distinction from X-rays

The conventional distinction between X-rays and gamma rays has changed over time. Originally, the electromagnetic radiation emitted by
X-ray tubeAn X-ray tube is a vacuum tube A vacuum tube, an electron tube, valve (British usage) or tube (North America), is a device that controls electric current flow in a high vacuum between electrodes to which an electric voltage, potential difference ...
s almost invariably had a longer
wavelength In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase (waves), phase on the wave, such as two adja ...

wavelength
than the radiation (gamma rays) emitted by
radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of s and s ...

radioactive
nuclei ''Nucleus'' (plural nuclei) is a Latin word for the seed inside a fruit. It most often refers to: *Atomic nucleus, the very dense central region of an atom *Cell nucleus, a central organelle of a eukaryotic cell, containing most of the cell's DNA ...
. Older literature distinguished between X- and gamma radiation on the basis of wavelength, with radiation shorter than some arbitrary wavelength, such as 10−11 m, defined as gamma rays. Since the energy of photons is proportional to their frequency and inversely proportional to wavelength, this past distinction between X-rays and gamma rays can also be thought of in terms of its energy, with gamma rays considered to be higher energy electromagnetic radiation than are X-rays. However, since current artificial sources are now able to duplicate any electromagnetic radiation that originates in the nucleus, as well as far higher energies, the wavelengths characteristic of radioactive gamma ray sources vs. other types now completely overlap. Thus, gamma rays are now usually distinguished by their origin: X-rays are emitted by definition by electrons outside the nucleus, while gamma rays are emitted by the nucleus. Exceptions to this convention occur in astronomy, where gamma decay is seen in the afterglow of certain supernovas, but radiation from high energy processes known to involve other radiation sources than radioactive decay is still classed as gamma radiation. For example, modern high-energy X-rays produced by
linear accelerators uses radio waves Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural scien ...
for megavoltage treatment in cancer often have higher energy (4 to 25 MeV) than do most classical gamma rays produced by nuclear
gamma decay A gamma ray, also known as gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of arising from the of . It consists of the shortest wavelength electromagnetic waves, typically shorter than those of s. With above 30 exahertz (), ...
. One of the most common gamma ray emitting isotopes used in diagnostic
nuclear medicine Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty A medical specialty is a branch of medical practice that is focused on a defined group of patients, diseases, skills, or philosophy. Examples include children (paediatrics Pediatrics (American and Briti ...
,
technetium-99m Technetium-99m (99mTc) is a metastable nuclear isomer of technetium-99 (itself an isotope of technetium), symbolized as 99mTc, that is used in tens of millions of medical diagnostic procedures annually, making it the most commonly used Radiopharma ...
, produces gamma radiation of the same energy (140 keV) as that produced by diagnostic X-ray machines, but of significantly lower energy than therapeutic photons from linear particle accelerators. In the medical community today, the convention that radiation produced by nuclear decay is the only type referred to as "gamma" radiation is still respected. Due to this broad overlap in energy ranges, in physics the two types of electromagnetic radiation are now often defined by their origin: X-rays are emitted by electrons (either in orbitals outside of the nucleus, or while being accelerated to produce
bremsstrahlung ''Bremsstrahlung'' (), from "to brake" and "radiation"; i.e., "braking radiation" or "deceleration radiation", is electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fund ...

bremsstrahlung
-type radiation), while gamma rays are emitted by the nucleus or by means of other particle decays or annihilation events. There is no lower limit to the energy of photons produced by nuclear reactions, and thus
ultraviolet Ultraviolet (UV) is a form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that stud ...

ultraviolet
or lower energy photons produced by these processes would also be defined as "gamma rays". The only naming-convention that is still universally respected is the rule that electromagnetic radiation that is known to be of atomic nuclear origin is ''always'' referred to as "gamma rays", and never as X-rays. However, in physics and astronomy, the converse convention (that all gamma rays are considered to be of nuclear origin) is frequently violated. In astronomy, higher energy gamma and X-rays are defined by energy, since the processes that produce them may be uncertain and photon energy, not origin, determines the required astronomical detectors needed. High-energy photons occur in nature that are known to be produced by processes other than nuclear decay but are still referred to as gamma radiation. An example is "gamma rays" from lightning discharges at 10 to 20 MeV, and known to be produced by the bremsstrahlung mechanism. Another example is gamma-ray bursts, now known to be produced from processes too powerful to involve simple collections of atoms undergoing radioactive decay. This is part and parcel of the general realization that many gamma rays produced in astronomical processes result not from radioactive decay or particle annihilation, but rather in non-radioactive processes similar to X-rays. Although the gamma rays of astronomy often come from non-radioactive events, a few gamma rays in astronomy are specifically known to originate from gamma decay of nuclei (as demonstrated by their spectra and emission half life). A classic example is that of supernova
SN 1987A SN 1987A was a type II supernova A Type II supernova (plural: ''supernovae'' or ''supernovas'') results from the rapid collapse and violent explosion of a massive star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid ...

SN 1987A
, which emits an "afterglow" of gamma-ray photons from the decay of newly made radioactive
nickel-56 Naturally occurring nickel Nickel is a chemical element Image:Simple Periodic Table Chart-blocks.svg, 400px, Periodic table, The periodic table of the chemical elements In chemistry, an element is a pure substance consisting only of a ...
and cobalt-56. Most gamma rays in astronomy, however, arise by other mechanisms.


See also

*
Annihilation In particle physics Particle physics (also known as high energy physics) is a branch of physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the ...

Annihilation
* Galactic Center GeV Excess *
Gaseous ionization detectors Gaseous ionization detectors are radiation detection instruments used in particle physics to detect the presence of ionizing particles, and in radiation protection applications to measure ionizing radiation. They use the ionising effect of radia ...
*
Very-high-energy gamma ray Very-high-energy gamma ray (VHEGR) denotes gamma radiation A gamma ray, or gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay Radioactive decay (also known as nuc ...
*
Ultra-high-energy gamma rayUltra-high-energy gamma rays are gamma rays with photon energy, photon energies higher than 100 TeV (0.1 PeV). They have a frequency higher than 2.42 × 1028 Hz and a wavelength shorter than 1.24 × 10−20 m. The existence of these rays was con ...


Notes


References


External links


Basic reference on several types of radiationRadiation Q & ARadiation informationThe Lund/LBNL Nuclear Data Search
– Contains information on gamma-ray energies from isotopes.
The LIVEChart of Nuclides – IAEA
with filter on gamma-ray energy
Health Physics Society Public Education Website
{{Authority control Electromagnetic spectrum Gamma rays, IARC Group 1 carcinogens Nuclear physics Radiation Radioactivity Articles containing video clips