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Alpha particle

Alpha particles or alpha rays are a form of particle radiation which are highly ionizing and have low penetration. They consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle that is identical to a helium nucleus, and can be written as He2+. In contrast to beta decay, Alpha decay is mediated by the strong nuclear force.

Alpha particles are emitted by radioactive nuclei such as uranium or radium in a process known as alpha decay. This sometimes leaves the nucleus in an excited state, with the emission of a gamma ray removing the excess energy.

Alpha rays are easily absorbed by materials and can travel only a few centimeters in air. They can be absorbed by tissue paper or the outer layers of human skin and so are not generally dangerous to life unless the source is ingested or inhaled. If Alpha radiation does enter the body, however, they are the most dangerous form of ionising radiation. They are the most strongly ionising, and with large enough doses can cause any or all of the symptoms of radiation poisoning.

See also: radioactivity, cosmic rays, nuclear physics, radioactive isotopes, radioactive decay

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