I have a friend whose house is, reportedly, haunted. Some people will agree. She has stories of the usual sort: TVs turning on of their own accord, hearing doors slam when the house is empty, hearing faint voices. She talks of cold spots. Bad feelings. A lot of shadows. Others, of course, will call the matter purely psychological. Whether a trick of the supernatural or the trick of the totally natural, it's creepy.
Still, we brave the basement at every sleep-over. And this is not a welcoming basement. This is the basement people in slasher flicks are regularly cut apart in. It's bland, but in a way that suggests throwaway parts and abandonment rather than minimalism, and there are rooms that lead off of it into unfinished parts. There's a door on the far wall that's always locked. The wall is thin and wooden. And it clicks.
I laid there one night, listening to it. Tapping. Clicking. Tiny animal noises, like rats scurrying in the walls. Like someone on the other side, trapped, eager for a savior, is tapping, tapping, tapping. You realize this, along with the house's reputation, had me thoroughly creeped.
Imagine the next day when her mother tells me it's the radon meter.
I felt relief, of course, but not completelybecause I don't think my house has one, and radon causes lung cancer. It's considered a health hazard, and rightly so. It emits alpha particles, which are easily deterred by something as thin as human skin. But it's a gas, and it can be inhaledand when it touches tissues as are in your lungs, the trouble starts. Ironically, it can also be used in radiotherapy to treat certain cancers.
Since the 1900's, it's been around. The German Friedrich Ernst Dorn discovered it, initially naming it Niton from the Latin "nitens," the word for "shining." In 1923, it was renamed Radon, referencing the element it comes fromradium.
Radon is a product of the decay of radium. Radon fluoride is the only chemical compound known to be made by this element. All of its isotopes are unstable. The most stable of them is Radon-222, whose half-life is 3.8 days and by the method of alpha decayas all of Radon's isotopes doto form polonium-218, which is radioactive. The shortest half life of Radon's thirty-eight isotope clocks in at 0.24 microseconds, the isotope in question belonging to radon-214.
Radon is not the chemical you want building in your house, trapped by insulation and closed windows, especially in houses built over areas rich in uranium, thorium and radium ores. But the Radon meter that initially terrified me is, in fact, a cause for ease. Installing one helps keep the Radon levels in a household in check. Proper ventilation is also a key part of the process. One gram of radium-226 produces 0.0001 milliliters of radon per day.
Radon's symbol is Rn, the atomic number 86, the atomic mass 222.0 amu, with 86 protons and electrons and 126 neutrons. It is a noble gas.