What are Gamma Rays and How They Affect the Human Body and the Earth?

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Gamma Rays

Just like there are sound waves we can’t hear (but other animals can), there is also an enormous range of light that our eyes can’t detect. The electromagnetic spectrum describes all the wavelengths of light, both seen and unseen, where most of them are invisible to us. The entire spectrum consists of a wide range of light from radio waves to gamma rays. Gamma rays have the smallest wavelength and the most energy of any other wave in the electromagnetic spectrum. These waves generate in nuclear explosions and reactions which form unstable atoms known as radioactive atoms.

Gamma rays travel a long distance before they reach the Earth’s atmosphere and get absorbed in it. Different wavelengths of light penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere to different depths. Gamma rays are the most energetic forms of light and produce by the hottest regions of the universe. Some violent events also create them, such as supernova explosions, the decay of radioactive materials in space, black holes, neutron stars, and pulsars, etc.

Gamma rays have frequencies higher than about 1,018 cycles per second, or hertz (Hz), and wavelengths of less than 100 picometers (A picometer is one-trillion of a meter.) Gamma rays have enough energy to cause damage to living tissue, but almost all cosmic gamma rays get blocked by Earth’s atmosphere. They are highly penetrating and interacts with matter through ionization via three processes: photoelectric effect, Compton scattering, or pair production.

Exposure to low levels of radiation does not cause immediate health effects but can cause a small increase in the risk of cancer over a lifetime. The risk increases as the dose increases: the higher the dose, the greater the risk. Conversely, the cancer risk from radiation exposure declines as the dose falls: the lower the intensity, the lower the risk. Children and fetuses are especially sensitive to radiation exposure. The cells in children and fetuses divide more rapidly, providing more opportunity for radiation to disrupt the process and cause cell damage. However, the sensitivity varies according to age and sex.

Some forms of these radiations are in the natural environment, and some are due to modern technology. Whether natural or human-made, radiation can both be harmful and beneficial to the environment. The sun, for example, can have both positive and negative effects, which is a source of ultraviolet rays. On the other hand, the ionizing radiations such as x-rays, gamma rays, alpha, and beta particles can be particularly harmful in excessive amounts. It has devastating effects on the environment, such as retard the growth of plants and seeds, disrupts the structure of DNA in living organisms, reproduction capabilities of microorganisms, can change pollination patterns, source of photochemical smog, etc.

Low doses of radiation have also proved to be beneficial in some instances. It can kill germ cells and can be used to treat mutations taking place in the body. Foods treated with low doses of radiation kill the toxic elements in it, and thus food can be preserved for a long time. Radiation that produces light is essential for the growth of plants, but the radiation level must be optimum. Too much exposure to radiation will destroy plant life.

Thus, no human activity is devoid of associated risks. The effect of gamma rays on the human body and environment can be assessed from the fact that the benefit caused by them to humankind, if appropriately regulated, are more than its harmful impacts.

Until Next Time,

Team Doctor ASKY!

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