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Stanford University News: “The Strange Case of Solar Flares and Radioactive Elements” Last year we mentioned research that showed a relationship between earth’s distance from the sun and the rate at which certain elements undergo radioactive decay—an eyebrow-raising linkage.
Now, scientists at Stanford University and Purdue University have found a further strange connection between astronomy and radiometric decay: the activity of solar flares seems to affect how quickly unstable elements fall apart. The find may “rewrit[e] some of the assumptions of physics,” Stanford University News reports.
The activity of solar flares seems to affect how quickly unstable elements fall apart.
Radioactive decay is important in the origins controversy because evolutionists, along with old-earth creationists who argue for a very old age for the world, argue that such decay allows us to accurately determine the age of rocks. By dating earth’s rock layers at millions or even billions of years old, evolutionists claim to support the supposed evolutionary history of earth’s life and show the Genesis account of history to be, at the very least, metaphor. As the news report explains,
The story begins, in a sense, in classrooms around the world, where students are taught that the rate of decay of a specific radioactive material is a constant. This concept is relied upon, for example, when anthropologists use carbon-14 to date ancient artifacts . . . . [As seen—and accepted without question—in other news this week.]
Creationists have not left these claims unanswered, of course. Recently, the RATE project produced an academic book series discussing various problems in radiometric dating, while resources for the laymen translate all the technical talk.
The latest discovery began when Purdue University physicist Ephraim Fischbach was studying radioactive decay as a method of generating random numbers—although the rate of decay is constant overall, individual atoms still behave randomly, and the physicist hoped to produce random numbers without any human input.
The decay rate of at least two isotopes seemed to vary, slightly, with the seasons.
But as Fischbach and other scientists looked at their data and data from other labs, a strange trend showed up: the decay rate of at least two isotopes seemed to vary, slightly, with the seasons (during which time the earth’s distance from the sun varies). Further, Purdue nuclear engineer Jere Jenkins observed a decrease in the decay rate of manganese-54 that occurred during a solar flare in 2006.
Stanford physicist Peter Sturrock said of the discovery, “Everyone thought it must be due to experimental mistakes, because we’re all brought up to believe that decay rates are constant.” Now, the scientists have hypothesized that the sun is, in a way, “communicating” (to use Fischbach’s word) with radioactive isotopes on earth. This may occur through the transmission of solar neutrinos, which the sun radiates toward earth, although the science behind such an effect is unknown.
It will likely take years before scientists are fully convinced of the relationship between solar activity and radioactive decay, and years more until the relationship is better understood. What is clear, perhaps now more than ever before, is that radioactive decay is not as constant, nor as understood, as old-earth creationists and evolutionists have insisted. Nevertheless, radiometric dating of rocks won’t fall out of fashion yet; as long as one assumes a relatively constant fluctuation in solar activity across millions of years of history, the old-earth conclusions of radiometric dating hold up. But once again, the issue is which assumptions one begins with.
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