Where did the myth that radiation glows green come from?

Probably from radium, which was widely used in self-luminous paint starting in 1908. When mixed with phosphorescent copper-doped zinc sulfide, radium emits a characteristic green glow:

The use of radioluminescent paint was mostly phased out by the mid 1960s. Today, in applications where it is warranted (like spacecraft instrument dials and certain types of sensors, for example), the radiation source is tritium (radioactive hydrogen) or an isotope of promethium, either of which have vastly shorter half lives than radium.

In most consumer products, though, radioluminescence has been replaced by photoluminescence, phosphors that emit light of one frequency after absorbing photons of a difference frequency. Glow-in-the-dark items that recharge to full brightness after brief exposure to sunlight or a flourescent light only to dim again over a couple of hours are photoluminescent, and contain no radiation.

An aside on aging Radium:

By now, most radium paint manufactured early in the 20th century has lost most of its glow, but it’s still radioactive. The isotope of radium used has a half life of 1,200 years, but the chemical phosphor that makes it glow has broken down from the constant radiation—so if you have luminescent antiques that barely glow, you might want to have them tested with a Geiger counter and take appropriate precautions. The radiation emitted is completely harmless as long as you don’t ingest or inhale the radium—in which case it becomes a serious cancer risk. So as the tell-tale glow continues to fade, how will you prevent your ancient watch dial or whatever from deteriorating and contaminating your great, great grandchildren’s home, or ending up in a landfill and in the local water supply?

Even without the phosphor, pure radium emits enough alpha particles to excite nitrogen in the air, causing it to glow. The color isn’t green, through, but a pale blue similar to that of an electric arc.

This glow (though not the color) entered the public consciousness through this early illustration of its appearance in Marie Curie’s lab, and became confused with the green glow of radium paints.

The myth is likely kept alive by the phenomenon of Cherenkov glow which arises when a charged particle (such as an electron or proton) from submerged sources exceeds the local speed of light through the surrounding water.

So in reality, some radionuclides do glow (notably radium and actinium), but not as brightly or in the color people think. Plutonium doesn’t, no matter what Homer Simpson thinks, unless it’s Pu 238—which has such a short half life, it heats itself red hot.

This information was taken from Quora. Click here to view the original post.

Were you also thinking that radiation glows green? Tell us in the comments below!

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What are your thoughts on this subject?
Ilias Tsiabardas
Very good information!
Jan 18, 2020 9:13PM
These women glowed!
Jan 8, 2020 10:46PM
You might mention the women who painted the dials of clocks & watches, etc., who were affected in work and/or ingested or otherwise mishadled the " Radium Paint", causing heir deaths. It was a big thing! And deadly......
Jan 8, 2020 10:44PM
We lost a lot of people to the process of making glow in the dark watches; dangerous stuff.
Sep 11, 2019 11:26AM
Krishna Chandra Singh Sanger
Robert L Hutchison, There was red Kryptonite too.
Sep 2, 2019 1:11AM
As a retired person with chemistry experience; to watch Marie Curie and her colleagues with radioactive material reminded me of how careless we used to be in the lab with lesser isotopes. Truly ignorance is bliss since I have lived without cancer until now. Great trivia! Thank you for educating Quiz funs.
Mar 28, 2019 12:00AM
I just confirmed to myself that I am not very bright...
Mar 12, 2019 7:56PM
Bob Bracegirdle
Spell fluorescent!!
Aug 12, 2018 7:40PM
Robert L Hutchison
If you read Superman, Kryptonite glowed I though all radiation was green...
Aug 10, 2018 5:36PM
lynne led drayer
100 percent right!!!
Jul 7, 2018 7:38PM
Minna Rasmussen
Good information.
Jul 5, 2018 1:40AM
Nancy Gardner
Thankyou for the information, I did know that one.
Jul 3, 2018 2:42PM
Shemeela Sasikumar
Valuable information.
Jul 3, 2018 2:52AM
Michael Doherty
One of the better Q & A's I've read on Quiz Club.
Jul 1, 2018 5:52PM
Michael Johnston
wait what Homer Simson the worlds greatest Philosopher got it wrong
Jun 30, 2018 2:20AM

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