Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

2015 Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James (Jim) CleavesII, Daniele L. Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Daniel Rouan, Tilman Spohn, Stéphane Tirard, Michel Viso

Radioactive Heating

  • Tilman SpohnEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-44185-5_1340


Radioactive heating refers to the energy dissipated in the interiors of  planets, satellites, or  asteroids as a consequence of the radioactive decay of radioactive isotopes (see  radiochemistry). Radioactive  isotopes are characterized by their decay energies and their  half-lives. The radioactive isotopes of importance on the timescale of a billion years are the so-called long-lived isotopes uranium 238U, 235U, thorium 232Th, and potassium 40K. Short-lived isotopes may have heated the planets in their early evolutions. The most effective short-lived isotope is 26Al, because of its abundance and decay energy. The concentrations of these elements differ between planets depending on their formation and chemical evolution. Partial melting and differentiation is a mechanism for redistributing radioactive isotopes between  crust and  mantle reservoirs.

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)Institut für PlanetenforschungBerlinGermany