If elements decay randomly (even though they usually decay away in a predictable period of time) could something decay instantly?

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So, I was told that, while radioactive elements have half lives that have been estimated (i.e. the time it takes for a material to decay to half it’s mass), kt’s not entirely predictable how often particles will decay in a given moment. If all that is true (which it might not be, feel free to correct in replies), is there a chance, if microscopically small, that a uranium rod could just fizzle out of existence in a matter of nanoseconds?

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18 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Yes, these kind of events are called “thermodynamic miracles.” Some of them are so unlikely that they literally might not end up happening in this universe despite how big it is and how long it will last. But any of them could be happening right now.

Anonymous 0 Comments

>is there a chance, if microscopically small, that a uranium rod could just fizzle out of existence in a matter of nanoseconds?

Yes.

Well…

There’s a teeny-tiny-eensie-weensie-infinitesimally small chance that a rod of uranium could all decay at the same time. I’m not going to describe to you how small, because there’s no meaningful way that I can get you to understand it. I could list the things that are more or less likely, but we’re really into “monkeys on keyboards reproducing Shakespeare” territory here.

But to another part of your question: that won’t cause it to “fizzle out of existence”, because when an atom undergoes radioactive decay, it doesn’t catastrophically cease to exist. In the case of uranium (all known isotopes, as it happens), it decays into a helium nucleus and an atom of Thorium.

There are other modes of decay – about one one hundred trillionth of time, U238 (the most common isotope, over 99% of natural uranium) will instead decay by emitting two electrons and turn into plutonium. About 200 billionths of the time, U235 decays by spontaneous fission instead of spitting out a helium nucleus and turning into thorium “like it should”, and about 50 millions of the time, U238 does this.

But those constitute a very small percent of total events, and they also don’t cause the atoms involved to “fizzle out of existence”.

If you had a rod of uranium and every single atom decayed at the same time, what you would be left with would be a very very hot rod of thorium that would probably almost immediately evaporate. There’s a good chance that there will be an explosion involved at some point from how quickly the metal evaporates. But I don’t think “superhot metal evaporating” is what you meant when you said “fizzle out of existence”. ‘Cause, you know, the metal’s still all there in the room with you, just in gas form.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Yes, these kind of events are called “thermodynamic miracles.” Some of them are so unlikely that they literally might not end up happening in this universe despite how big it is and how long it will last. But any of them could be happening right now.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Yes, these kind of events are called “thermodynamic miracles.” Some of them are so unlikely that they literally might not end up happening in this universe despite how big it is and how long it will last. But any of them could be happening right now.

Anonymous 0 Comments

>is there a chance, if microscopically small, that a uranium rod could just fizzle out of existence in a matter of nanoseconds?

Yes.

Well…

There’s a teeny-tiny-eensie-weensie-infinitesimally small chance that a rod of uranium could all decay at the same time. I’m not going to describe to you how small, because there’s no meaningful way that I can get you to understand it. I could list the things that are more or less likely, but we’re really into “monkeys on keyboards reproducing Shakespeare” territory here.

But to another part of your question: that won’t cause it to “fizzle out of existence”, because when an atom undergoes radioactive decay, it doesn’t catastrophically cease to exist. In the case of uranium (all known isotopes, as it happens), it decays into a helium nucleus and an atom of Thorium.

There are other modes of decay – about one one hundred trillionth of time, U238 (the most common isotope, over 99% of natural uranium) will instead decay by emitting two electrons and turn into plutonium. About 200 billionths of the time, U235 decays by spontaneous fission instead of spitting out a helium nucleus and turning into thorium “like it should”, and about 50 millions of the time, U238 does this.

But those constitute a very small percent of total events, and they also don’t cause the atoms involved to “fizzle out of existence”.

If you had a rod of uranium and every single atom decayed at the same time, what you would be left with would be a very very hot rod of thorium that would probably almost immediately evaporate. There’s a good chance that there will be an explosion involved at some point from how quickly the metal evaporates. But I don’t think “superhot metal evaporating” is what you meant when you said “fizzle out of existence”. ‘Cause, you know, the metal’s still all there in the room with you, just in gas form.

Anonymous 0 Comments

>is there a chance, if microscopically small, that a uranium rod could just fizzle out of existence in a matter of nanoseconds?

Yes.

Well…

There’s a teeny-tiny-eensie-weensie-infinitesimally small chance that a rod of uranium could all decay at the same time. I’m not going to describe to you how small, because there’s no meaningful way that I can get you to understand it. I could list the things that are more or less likely, but we’re really into “monkeys on keyboards reproducing Shakespeare” territory here.

But to another part of your question: that won’t cause it to “fizzle out of existence”, because when an atom undergoes radioactive decay, it doesn’t catastrophically cease to exist. In the case of uranium (all known isotopes, as it happens), it decays into a helium nucleus and an atom of Thorium.

There are other modes of decay – about one one hundred trillionth of time, U238 (the most common isotope, over 99% of natural uranium) will instead decay by emitting two electrons and turn into plutonium. About 200 billionths of the time, U235 decays by spontaneous fission instead of spitting out a helium nucleus and turning into thorium “like it should”, and about 50 millions of the time, U238 does this.

But those constitute a very small percent of total events, and they also don’t cause the atoms involved to “fizzle out of existence”.

If you had a rod of uranium and every single atom decayed at the same time, what you would be left with would be a very very hot rod of thorium that would probably almost immediately evaporate. There’s a good chance that there will be an explosion involved at some point from how quickly the metal evaporates. But I don’t think “superhot metal evaporating” is what you meant when you said “fizzle out of existence”. ‘Cause, you know, the metal’s still all there in the room with you, just in gas form.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Yes every atom could decay in the next moment of time, it is just extremely unlikely.

A half-life is a mathematical result of atoms that in each moment of time have a small chance of decaying and the process has no memory.

So if you have atoms has a 1% probability of decaying each minute and a lot of them the result will be that there is a period of time that half decay. Because there is no memory the remaining will take the same time to half again.

You can calculate the half-life by install looking at the surficial change of 99%

You now need to solve the equation 0.99^n = 1/2 and the answer is n is approximately 69 seconds.

You can calculate the probability all decay the first second too. Lets just use 100 atom the answer is then 0.01^100 = 10^-200

That number is 0.0 and another 198 zero before a 1.

That is number so large even if you had all the atoms in the universe available for each second since the start of the universe you are nowhere close to likely observing what happen with 100 atoms

In reality, 100 atoms is extremely few. 1 gram of matter is in the order of a billion billion billion atoms. The half-life of the uranium isotope we find in nature is hundreds of million or billion of years.

The result is for U-238 you lily have 12445 atoms that decay per second and a gram. You have around 2 thousand billion billion atoms in 1 gram of U-238

Anonymous 0 Comments

Yes and that’s exactly what happens – each radionuclide will decay spontaneously on its own with no regard to anything around it.

Half-life is the time taken for half of the sample to decay and is based on the average time that a nucleus will take to decay. Because atoms are so small and light we have huge numbers even in a very small sample which is why they average out to the half-life. If you could isolate a single atom then it would either decay or not at any given time so at some point it will decay. For something like carbon-14 which has a half-life of over 5000 years it either will or it won’t decay every second.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Yes every atom could decay in the next moment of time, it is just extremely unlikely.

A half-life is a mathematical result of atoms that in each moment of time have a small chance of decaying and the process has no memory.

So if you have atoms has a 1% probability of decaying each minute and a lot of them the result will be that there is a period of time that half decay. Because there is no memory the remaining will take the same time to half again.

You can calculate the half-life by install looking at the surficial change of 99%

You now need to solve the equation 0.99^n = 1/2 and the answer is n is approximately 69 seconds.

You can calculate the probability all decay the first second too. Lets just use 100 atom the answer is then 0.01^100 = 10^-200

That number is 0.0 and another 198 zero before a 1.

That is number so large even if you had all the atoms in the universe available for each second since the start of the universe you are nowhere close to likely observing what happen with 100 atoms

In reality, 100 atoms is extremely few. 1 gram of matter is in the order of a billion billion billion atoms. The half-life of the uranium isotope we find in nature is hundreds of million or billion of years.

The result is for U-238 you lily have 12445 atoms that decay per second and a gram. You have around 2 thousand billion billion atoms in 1 gram of U-238

Anonymous 0 Comments

Yes every atom could decay in the next moment of time, it is just extremely unlikely.

A half-life is a mathematical result of atoms that in each moment of time have a small chance of decaying and the process has no memory.

So if you have atoms has a 1% probability of decaying each minute and a lot of them the result will be that there is a period of time that half decay. Because there is no memory the remaining will take the same time to half again.

You can calculate the half-life by install looking at the surficial change of 99%

You now need to solve the equation 0.99^n = 1/2 and the answer is n is approximately 69 seconds.

You can calculate the probability all decay the first second too. Lets just use 100 atom the answer is then 0.01^100 = 10^-200

That number is 0.0 and another 198 zero before a 1.

That is number so large even if you had all the atoms in the universe available for each second since the start of the universe you are nowhere close to likely observing what happen with 100 atoms

In reality, 100 atoms is extremely few. 1 gram of matter is in the order of a billion billion billion atoms. The half-life of the uranium isotope we find in nature is hundreds of million or billion of years.

The result is for U-238 you lily have 12445 atoms that decay per second and a gram. You have around 2 thousand billion billion atoms in 1 gram of U-238