Radioactivity is the conversion of one nuclear state to another. It is accompanied by the emission of particles or electromagnetic radiation. The nuclear state change can often involve a change in the atomic number of the atoms involved.

The most well known forms of radiation emiited are alpha particles (helium nuclei - two protons bound with two neutrons), beta particles (energetic electrons) and gamma radiation (very high energy electromagnetic radiation). Another form of radioactivity is fission in which a nucleus splits into two smaller components.

Most sources of natural, predictable radiation come from the decay of atomic nuclei, resulting in either alpha - α  or beta - β particles. In general, α  decay is more common among the heavier elements, as it reduces the proton:neutron ratio, while β decay is much more prominent among lighter elements, as it converts a neutron into a proton.

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