What do you do if you find a cobalt-60 radiation source? “If you sprint away immediately, you might not die,” says Katie Mummah, a nuclear engineer and grad student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The history of this sample from 1963 is unclear, but 60Co’s intense gamma ray emissions are used in radiotherapy, sterilization, and structural analysis. Careful shielding protects organisms that don’t want a lethal dose of radiation.
Starting at 3540 Curies nearly 60 years ago, this particular sample today probably would throw off about 2 Curies, says archaeologist Ellis Monahan (@GirlArchaeo). That’s not too bad from a meter away, but a real problem if you put it in your pocket, she says.
This sample, about 10 cm long and 2.5 cm in diameter, is in the collection of the Off-Site Recovery Program based at Los Alamos National Lab. If you ever stumble on some stray radioactive material, give them a call at (505) 667-7920 and they’ll come get it, worldwide.
Credit: Los Alamos National Lab
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