Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Atomic Age

I'm sharing Neil's comment on the last post (on 20th century atomic tests, and the associated spike in radioactive soil that dates to the 1950s) here on the front page, in case you missed it:
"And it's not just topsoil of course. Teeth and trees and deep sea corals and lichen and thereby reindeer piss all show bomb spikes."
Yes, teeth! Nuclear weapons going off in the upper atmosphere between 1955 and 1963 produced enough neutron radiation to create a dramatic spike in the world's supply of radioactive carbon-14 and strontium-90 (which are like regular carbon and strontium, but with extra neutrons fused on). These radioactive isotopes then lodged themselves into life all over the planet - including the tooth enamel of baby boomers.

This means that the degree of radioactivity in your teeth are can give a remarkably accurate determination (within 1-2 years) of when you were born. According to Dental Tribune (The World's Dental Newspaper), this forensic technique can be useful "in a large natural disaster or in an unsolved homicide case." Or if you're a biologist figuring out the growth rates of trees or corals.

So hey, the Cold War was good for something, wasn't it?

Image: advertisement for Detrifice Tho Radia, made from "a basic salt of thorium."

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