Wouldn’t it be nifty if there was a way we could see into rocks without having to break them? Just think of it. If we could see inside of rocks without having to slice them open, then perhaps we could see into rocks on other planets like Mars. Maybe then we could detect forms of life inside these rocks.
Whatever your rock interests are, luckily, now there is a new way to see inside of rocks. It involves neutron beams from a nuclear reactor. The method is called neutron tomography. Scientists have already used this process to detect bacteria living inside rocks collected from Antarctica’s dry valleys and Israel’s Negev desert. They are also using this technique to see inside volcanic rocks, as well rocks from the deep ocean floor.
Like X-rays, neutrons can see the individual atoms that make up a thing. However, though both X-rays and neutrons can produce pictures of what materials look like on the inside, the pictures neutron beams make are more complete. That’s because neutrons can see deeper inside materials and can detect smaller atoms just as well as larger atoms, whereas X-rays only allow us to see the larger atoms that make up a material.