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half a million dollar mineral grinder

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Hot Rocks: A Rockhounds Guide to Radioactivity Rock amp; Gem ...

While this definition might seem a bit intimidating, getting a practical handle on radioactivity is not that difficult. Admittedly, the word is loaded with negative connotations linked to nuclear weapons, fallout, toxic waste disposal, reactor meltdowns, and the hazards of radon gas. Nevertheless, radioactivity is very much a part of the natural world, especially the world of mineralogy. Minerals are described as radioactive when they emit energy in the forms of alpha, beta, or gamma radiation. Radiation is the catchall term for energy in the form of waves or particles. Gamma rays make up the extreme high frequency, shortwave end of the electromagnetic spectrum, broadband of radiation energy that includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, and X rays. Alpha and beta particles are not forms of electromagnetic energy. Alpha radiation refers to positively charged, high energy, low mass particles that consist of two neutrons and two protons are classified as ionizing radiation, meaning that they have sufficient energy to ionize atoms in the materials they strike. Atoms become ionized when they lose electrons and assume a net positive charge. Because it disrupts normal biochemical functions on the molecular and atomic levels, ionizing radiation can be harmful to living tissue. Ionizing radiation is produced by nuclear fusion, nuclear fission, and atomic decay, the latter being the natural disintegration of the nuclei of unstable, heavy elements or isotopes . Ionizing radiation can be cosmic, man made, or geophysical in origin. The sun, a giant nuclear fusion furnace that emits intense gamma radiation, provides most of our cosmic radiation. Fortunately, very little reaches the Earths surface because of its distance from the sun and atmospheric absorption. During the past 80 years, the Earths cumulative env...

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The discovery of radioactivity followed investigations into the mysterious, penetrating invisible energy that was produced by passing an electrical current through vacuum discharge tubes. In 1895, the German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen named this energy X rays to signify its unknown nature. Radioactivity was accidentally discovered in 1896 when French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel studied the effects of X rays and sunlight on potassium uranyl sulfate, a compound that fluoresced in direct sunlight. Becquerel placed this compound atop photographic plates wrapped in lightproof black paper, then exposed it to sunlight. He noted that the photographic plates became exposed, and attributed this to some type of penetrating energy related to fluorescence. When cloudy weather delayed his experiments, Becquerel stored both the uranium compound and the unexposed, wrapped photographic plates together inside a dark desk drawer. Later, out of curiosity, he deve...

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The early 1900s saw many exciting discoveries about radioactivity. While working with thorium, Rutherford had detected radioactivity throughout his laboratoryeven after the thorium had been removed. He deduced that this radioactivity came not from the thorium itself, but from a gaseous product of thoriums atomic disintegration. This realization led to the discovery of another radioactive elementradon. Rutherford then postulated that radioactive elements spontaneously and continuously disintegrate to release radiation and produce a decay chain of other radioactive elements and isotopes. He also learned that radons intense radioactivity decreased by half every few days. His term half life is now used to describe the speed at which unstable atoms undergo atomic disintegration. Rutherford observed that an inverse relationship existed between half life and the intensity of radioactivity. Uranium, with its low level of radioactivity, has a very long half life of more than four billi...

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The uses, perception, and importance of radioactive minerals changed radically during World War II when uranium became the source of its fissionable U 235 isotope needed for the first atomic bombs. Following the war, the United States government subsidized the Great Uranium Rush, in which improved, lightweight, shoe box sized Geiger Müller counters were the key tools for the thousands of radiometric prospectors who searched for hot rocks, mainly uraninite and carnotite. The radioactivity emitted by uranium and thorium has several effects on minerals, one of which is color alteration. Long term exposure to low level radioactivity can disrupt normal electron positions in the crystal lattices of certain minerals. This activity creates electron traps, called color centers, that alter the minerals color absorption reflection properties. The colors of smoky quartz, blue and purple fluorite and halite, brown topaz, and yellow and brown calcite are often caused by exposure to geophys...

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Today, mineral collectors have access to a wide range of radioactivity sensing instruments, including dosimeters that measure cumulative radiation exposure, miniaturized Geiger Müller counters, and scintillators that quantitatively measure geophysical radioactivity, and radiation monitors that measure relative overall radioactivity. Prices for basic instruments begin at about $40, while top of the line, quantitative instruments can cost thousands of dollars.

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For general mineral collecting and amateur radiometric prospecting uses, radiation monitors, which cost from $200 to $700, will suffice. Im familiar with the Radalert radiation monitor manufactured by International Medcom of Sebastopol, California. It weighs 10 ounces and contains a miniaturized Geiger Müller tube. Alpha and beta particles, gamma rays, and X rays ionize the tubes gas atoms, causing the tube to discharge with tiny electrical pulses. Integrated circuits convert these pulses to liquid crystal displays, flash light emitting diodes, and generate audible clicks. This instrument detects total ionizing radiation and provides relative, rather than absolute or quantitative, radioactivity measurements. It is ready for use after quickly determining the local background radiation load, which varies with geology, solar flare activity, and elevation. At sea level, the normal background radiation might be roughly 13 counts...

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