In spite of being located no less than 93 million miles away from Earth, the Sun appears to be influencing the decay of radioactive elements inside research labs on the planet.
The conclusion belongs to a new investigation, which was carried out by experts at the Purdue University and the Stanford University.
The problem with the result is that the answer the team provides for this unexpected mystery appears to be raising other questions in return.
According to the physicists in the new research, it could even be that the Sun is exerting its influence on radioactive matter through an elementary particle that has never been detected before.
“That would be truly remarkable,” explains Stanford professor emeritus of applied physics and solar expert Peter Sturrock. He was a part of the group that conducted the work..
According to established theories, the decay of a specific radioactive material is a constant. This idea is used to determine what radiation doses to give to cancer patients, as well as to calculate the age of samples using carbon-14.
Researchers at the Purdue University now contest the idea that the constant exist, basing their claim on a series of experiments which show the existence of disagreements in the measured decay rates of various radioactive isotopes.
The new data, proposed by Purdue physics professor Ephraim Fischbach, was tested and confirmed by teams at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Federal Physical and Technical Institute, in Germany,
These two labs also found that small seasonal variations existed in the decay rates of the chemical elements silicon-32 and radium-226.
Researchers here found that decay rates during the summer season were slightly faster than those present during winter.
Even if the differences are minute, the basic rule of a constant, which is being, well, constant, are broken. The finding could have significant implications.
The teams at the BNL and the FPTI began wondering whether the differences occurred on account of computer hardware, or some other device used in the measurement.
“Everyone thought it must be due to experimental mistakes, because we're all brought up to believe that decay rates are constant,” Sturrock explains
“It doesn't make sense according to conventional ideas,” Fischbach explains.
“Theorists are starting to say, 'What's going on?' But that's what the evidence points to. It's a challenge for the physicists and a challenge for the solar people too,” says Sturrock.
It may very well be that the interaction between the Sun and radioactive materials is caused by a new, yet-undiscovered particle, physicists say.
“It's an effect that no one yet understands,” Sturrock concludes.