The strange case of solar flares and radioactive elements
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August 23, 2010: Researchers from Stanford and Purdue University believe they have discovered evidence that the rate of radioactive decay, heretofore believed to be constant, is actually fluctuating. So far, they have discovered the following influences, all pointing to the Sun as the influencing factor:

  • Seasonal variation - the rate was slightly faster in (Northern Hemisphere) winter than in summer - and in the former, the Earth is closer to the Sun.
  • A shorter periodic time span of 33 days. This is believed to be caused by the sun's rotation, although the outer regions of the suns rotate once every 28 days. This may suggest that the core regions of the sun rotate slower.
  • Finally, the rate dropped slightly during a solar flare - and one and a half days before the flare actually started!

It is unclear just what kind of interaction couples radioactive decay on Earth with the activity of the Sun. One of the current suspects are neutrinos - except that neutrinos aren't supposed to interact much with anything according to standard models, and certainly not with radioactive decay rates this way. At present, nobody really has a good explanation for this effect.

This of course raises questions for archaeology, geology, and botany, as the most common forms of dating objects, fossils and so forth depend on radioactive decay, and on radioactive decay rates being constant. If the long-term variations are small, the methods and prior datings can be used unchanged. If not… well, then it's time to revise some history.



Game and Story Use

  • Before we go into the implications, let me point out that this is precisely the kind of stuff that will cause a trained physicist - including Yours Truly - to make a roll to avoid Sanity loss. Suddenly, with one strange effect the physicist learns that the universe is not working the way it should be, and what he believed to be immutable… suddenly isn't.
  • So what kind of reality-warping monsters are living near the core of the sun to cause this effect?
    • Have they been living there forever? Or have they migrated there recently and are slowly consuming the star?
  • This is the perfect excuse to declare all of history (human or otherwise) a lie - if radioactive decay rates were much faster or much slower in previous eras, then the speed with which history progressed is changed as well…
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