This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.
When people think of radioactivity, many imagine it converting cute, fluffy animals into scary, green, glowing mutants. But, that’s just a myth. Radioactivity is invisible. The reason we associate radiation with “glowing green” is because many types of instrument dials (such as a clock face) were painted with radioluminescent paint, a mixture that contained a radioactive isotope (often radium) and other chemicals that would emit green light in response to the radiation. Similarly, while it is true that some nuclear power plants produce a hauntingly blue glow, this is not because the radioactive fuel itself is glowing, but because of a strange phenomenon known as Cherenkov radiation, in which particles moving faster than the speed of light emit photons, generally in the UV to blue light range.
However, this is not the whole story. The great radiation/color narrative has taken yet another twist. A team of scientists led by Zbyszek Boratyński has reported in the journal Scientific Reports that Chernobyl radiation has changed the hair color of local rodents. Continue reading