United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment
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Alpha particle

A positively charged particle ejected spontaneously from the nuclei of some radioactive elements. It is identical to a helium nucleus that has a mass number of 4 and an electrostatic charge of +2. It has low penetrating power and a short range (a few centimeters in air). The most energetic alpha particle will generally fail to penetrate the dead layers of cells covering the skin, and can be easily stopped by a sheet of paper. Alpha particles are hazardous when an alpha-emitting isotope is inside the body. For additional detail, see Radiation Basics.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, January 18, 2017