Beta decay

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In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle (an electron or a positron) is emitted. In the case of electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus (β
), while in the case of a positron emission as beta plus (β+
). In electron emission, an electron antineutrino is also emitted, while positron emission is accompanied by an electron neutrino. Beta decay is mediated by the weak force.

Emitted beta particles have a continuous kinetic energy spectrum, ranging from 0 to the maximal available energy (Q), which depends on the parent and daughter nuclear states that participate in the decay. A typical Q is around 1 MeV, but it can range from a few keV to a few tens of MeV. Since the equivalence of energy of the rest mass of electron is 511 keV, the most energetic beta particles are ultrarelativistic, with speeds very close to the speed of light.

Sometimes electron capture decay is included as a type of beta decay (and is referred to as "inverse beta decay"), because the basic process, mediated by the weak force is the same. However, no beta particle is emitted, but only an electron neutrino. Instead of beta-plus emission, an inner atomic electron is captured by a proton in the nucleus. This type of decay is therefore analogus to positron emission (and also happens in all positron-emitters). However, electron capture is the only type of decay that is allowed in proton-rich nuclides which do not have sufficient energy to emit a positron (and neutrino), but may still reach a lower energy state by the equivalent process of electron-capture and neutrino-emission.


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