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Potassium-40 (40K) is a radioactive isotope of potassium which has a long half-life of 1.25 billion years. It makes up about 0.012% (120 ppm) of the total amount of potassium found in nature.

Potassium-40 is a rare example of a nuclide that undergoes both types of beta decay. In about 89.28% of events, it decays to calcium-40 (40Ca) with emission of a beta particle (β−, an electron) with a maximum energy of 1.31 MeV and an antineutrino. In about 10.72% of events, it decays to argon-40 (40r) by electron capture (EC), with the emission of a neutrino and then a 1.460 MeV gamma ray. The radioactive decay of this particular isotope explains the large abundance of argon (nearly 1%) in the Earth’s atmosphere, as well as prevalence of 40Ar over other isotopes. Very rarely (0.001% of events), it decays to 40Ar by emitting a positron (β+) and a neutrino.

Spectrum (Fullscreen)

5 minute measurement with a High Purity Germanium (HPGe) radiation detector.


Isotope: Potassium
Mass number: 40
Atomic number: 19
Neutron number: 21

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