Does all radiation glow green and mutates people on contact?

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    $\begingroup$ To put it mildly, cartoons are not a reliable source of information about the real world, much less real science. $\endgroup$ Aug 5 '19 at 7:32

Radioactivity is a very specific type of radiation

Radiation is a very broad term. Usually it means electromagnetic radiation which includes everything from long wavelength radiowaves to hard gamma rays. If we are going with the even more general usage of the word we would also include the particlulate "radiation" often associated with radioactivity.

Electromagnetic radiation includes the (usually harmless) radio waves that power broadcast television, radio, your WiFi, mobile phones; visible light; infra red light (which we perceive as heat); ultraviolet light (a small part of which is visible only to those who have had the lens of their eye replaced); and X-rays used to detect broken bones in hospitals. Some of this radiation has the potential to cause harm. Overexposure to X-rays will cause mutations (but the doses used in X-ray machines are very low and only worrisome if you have a lot of X-rays). Near-UV light (with wavelengths just shorter than blue visible light) is harmful if you stay in the sun too long (that's why we have sunblock) but is also good for you in small quantities as it promotes the production of vitamin D in the skin. The infra-red radiation emitted by hot objects isn't going to mutate anything but it will burn you if the intensity is too high.

As for radiation associated with radioactivity, that is a mix of high-energy electromagnetic radiation like gamma rays but also particulate radiation like alpha and beta particles (helium nuclei and electrons). All of this has enough energy to harm you and will cause mutations. But only gamma radiation is good at penetrating clothing so the big worry with it is if you ingest something that emits it.

So, in short, most radiation won't make things glow green and won't mutate you. The radiation associated with radioactivity is a very small subset of all the sorts of radiation that exist and is usually harmful. But don't confuse the two. Much of the modern world is enabled by radiation that causes no known harm and you would not be able to see anything if there were no visible light (which is the radiation we encounter most frequently).


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