The spontaneous transformation of one radioisotope into one or more different isotopes (known as “decay products” or “daughter products”), accompanied by a decrease in radioactivity (compared to the parent material). This transformation takes place over a defined period of time (known as a “half-life”), as a result of electron capture; fission; or the emission of alpha particles, beta particles, or photons (gamma radiation or x-rays) from the nucleus of an unstable atom. Each isotope in the sequence (known as a “decay chain”) decays to the next until it forms a stable, less energetic end product. In addition, radioactive decay may refer to gamma-ray and conversion electron emission, which only reduces the excitation energy of the nucleus.
Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, March 09, 2021