Answer to Question #32966 in Molecular Physics | Thermodynamics for Shandy Sivram
X-rays and gamma rays, like light, represent energy transmitted in a wave without the movement of material, just as heat and light from a fire or the sun travels through space. X-rays and gamma rays are virtually identical except that X-rays are generally produced artificially rather than coming from the atomic nucleus. But unlike light, X-rays and gamma rays have great penetrating power and can pass through the human body. Mass in the form of concrete, lead or water are used to shield us from them.
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons, in the form of atomic nuclei. They thus have a positive electrical charge and are emitted from naturally-occurring heavy elements such as uranium and radium, as well as from some man-made elements. Because of their relatively large size, alpha particles collide readily with matter and lose their energy quickly. They therefore have little penetrating power and can be stopped by the first layer of skin or a sheet of paper.
Beta particles are fast-moving electrons ejected from the nuclei of many kinds of radioactive atoms. These particles are much smaller than alpha particles and can penetrate up to 1 to 2 centimeters of water or human flesh. They can be stopped by a sheet of aluminium a few millimeters thick.
Cosmic radiation consists of very energetic particles, mostly protons, which bombard the Earth from outer space. It is more intense at higher altitudes than at sea level where the Earth's atmosphere is most dense and gives the greatest protection. Neutrons are particles which are also very penetrating. On Earth they mostly come from the splitting, or fissioning, of certain atoms inside a nuclear reactor. Water and concrete are the most commonly used shields against neutron radiation from the core of the nuclear reactor.
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