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Continuous X-ray

Last updated date: 16th Jul 2024
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Introduction to X-ray

X rays, which were first discovered in 1901, have revolutionized modern medicine. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, a German physicist, was even given the Nobel Prize for his discovery of electromagnetic radiation. An X-ray is a painless, rapid exam that creates images of the inside components of your body, notably your bones. X -rays are electromagnetic radiation that can see through a person's skin and provide images of the bones beneath it. Technology advancements have resulted in more powerful and focussed X-ray beams, as well as a growing number of applications for these light waves.

X-ray beams flow through your body, and depending on the density of the material they pass through, they are absorbed in varying amounts. On X-rays, dense materials like bone and metal appear white. Your lungs' air appears to be black. Fat and muscle appear as grayscale images.

Types of X-rays

There are two types of X-ray spectrum:

  1. Continuous - when high-speed electrons collide with a high-atomic-number target material, X-rays are created. The majority of the energy of the electrons is used to heat the target material in the creation of X-rays.A few fast-moving electrons penetrate deep into the interior of the target material's atoms and are drawn to their nuclei by their nuclei's attraction forces. The electrons are thrown from their initial route due to these forces. As a result, electrons slow down, and their energy reduces over time. The X-rays have a continuous frequency range up to a maximum frequency max or a minimum wavelength min. This is called Continuous X-rays. The minimum wavelength depends on the anode voltage. If V is the potential difference between the anode and the cathode

eV = hνmax = hc / λmin

The minimum wavelength of the given radiation is,

λmin = hc /eV

where h is Planck's constant, c is the velocity of light and e, the charge of the electron. Substituting the known values in the above equation.

λmin  = 12400/V A0

For the given operating voltage, the minimum wavelength is the same for all metals.

  1. Characteristic X-ray - Characteristic radiation is a sort of energy emission that is important in the creation of X-rays. When a fast-moving electron collides with a K-shell electron, the electron in the K-shell is ejected (if the incident electron's energy is larger than the K-shell electron's binding energy), leaving a 'hole' behind. An outer shell electron fills this hole (from the L-shell, M-shell, and so on) with the emission of a single X-ray photon with an energy level equal to the energy level difference between the outer and inner shell electrons engaged in the transition.


What is an X-ray?

You probably know someone that has had a medical X-ray exam. You may have even had one yourself. However, have you ever stopped to wonder how this invisible source of energy is created? In this lesson, we'll discuss two different types of X-rays: continuous X-rays and characteristic X-rays. We'll specifically examine the production and properties of both. Before we begin this comparison, let's first review exactly what an X-ray is.


To understand X-rays, you must understand that this form of energy is just a type of light. This might make you think of visible light (light that can be seen with the human eye). In science, light is much more than just visible light. Light is synonymous with the electromagnetic spectrum, which is a group of waves of varying energy levels. The electromagnetic spectrum is most often seen as a chart that ranges from radio waves to gamma rays. On the electromagnetic spectrum, X-rays are ordered adjacent to gamma rays (on the high energy side of the spectrum). So, when you hear the word X-ray, just think of high energy light.


Here we are going to discuss what is continuous X-ray, continuous X-ray production, characteristic X-rays and continuous X-rays, continuous X-ray spectrum definition.


Continuous X-rays

Continuous X-rays are created when free moving electrons electromagnetically interact with nuclei, whereas characteristic X-rays are formed during the electron transition processes that occur when an inner shell electron is released from an atom.


Bremsstrahlung transitions tend to create a phenomenon of continuous X-rays whereas the regular characteristic X-rays are produced by inner-shell transitions. The Bremsstrahlung mechanism can be viewed when a target made of metal suffers electron bombardment. The atoms of the target metal scatter the electrons, whose change in acceleration causes a phenomenon of radiation in them.

Continuous and Characteristic X -Rays

Characteristic X-rays are discharged from the heavy elements when the electrons make transitions between the lower atomic energy levels. X-ray production typically involves bombarding a metal target in an evacuated X-ray tube with high-speed electrons which have been accelerated by tens to hundreds of kilovolts of potential. The bombarding electrons can eject electrons from the inner shells of the atoms of the target metal, usually tungsten or molybdenum. This void will be quickly filled up by the electrons falling from higher levels, emitting X-rays with absolutely defined frequencies associated with the difference between atomic energy levels of the target atoms as they do.


Continuous radiation, or Bremsstrahlung, is the spectrum of electromagnetic emission when the bombarding electrons are of sufficient energy, and results from the electrons being rapidly decelerated by the target. The generated X-ray wavelengths will be distributed over a range, which may or may not include the characteristic ones, depending upon the energy of the bombarding electrons.


When we mention characteristic X-ray, it means X-ray photons which have an energy equivalent to the difference of energy in two electronic levels of an atom. The main reason why it is called the characteristic is that each of the elements has a specific difference in energy. Since the energy levels are discrete (short reason, a consequence of quantum mechanics and probability distributions), they are usually X-rayed with a very specific energy that depends on the element that you see in the diagram below as a vertical line.


Those K-alpha, and more, represent the energy difference between the K level and upper levels.


As for the continuous X-ray, that is generated through another process, and it is known as Bremsstrahlung radiation or braking radiation. When an electron passes close to the nucleus, the nucleus exerts a force on it that changes its direction and slows it down (hence the braking). That change in direction implies some energy is lost, and to conserve momentum and energy, one photon is emitted. And since the energy of the photon depends on how far the electron was from the nucleus, you end up with a continuous spectrum.


As you can see from this example, depending on how much the electron is deflected, you have photons with different energies.


If we take a look at the combined spectrum of the X-ray in the graph, we normally will see something like this:


As you can see, you have the continuous X-ray corresponding to Bremsstrahlung and the discrete lines which represent the characteristic X-ray radiation (the location again, depends on the element).


Reason for Continuous X-ray Radiation

Continuous X-ray radiation is for the fact that the change in the velocity which causes the emission of much of the radiation in a tube, which is used as a radiography source is a random process that emits photons at different energies. If we look at the spectrum of an X-ray tube it normally has a broad lump due to this Bremsstrahlung emission. Whenever the tube voltage is very low (below 60 kV) we should be able to see some strong peaks due to the characteristic radiation of emission from the target (anode) material. To watch these characteristic peaks it really helps, as if the tube has windows and very little filtering. A medical X-ray source normally has some filter in the form of a metal sheet to remove almost all of the low energy photons from the beam so that this tube is almost only emitting Bremsstrahlung.


An interesting exception is a tube used for a mammogram set, these tend to be Mo anodes run at about 50 kV. These will generate a large amount of Mo k alpha radiation. This lower energy (circa 15 keV) radiation is well suited for the examination of breast tissue, while the higher energy Bremsstrahlung from a tube running at 100 or 200 kV will be more acceptable for looking at bones. The dental X-ray sets use about 70 kV on the tubes which is a partway between the two.


On the other hand, a radioactive photon source which emits gamma rays is always on, it can not be turned off. It emits photons with well-defined energies. For example, Co-60 emits two lines one at about 1.1 MeV and one at 1.3 MeV. This is only because the gamma photons are generated when an excited nucleus makes adjustments between the two states. In this case, the excited state of the Ni-60 daughter emits the photons.

FAQs on Continuous X-ray

1. What happens under an X-ray?

Our body is positioned by a technician to gain the appropriate views. To assist you in maintaining your posture, he or she may utilize pillows or sandbags. To keep the image from blurring throughout the X-ray exposure, you must remain calm and sometimes hold your breath.

An X-ray technique can take as little as a few minutes for a simple X-ray or as much as an hour for more complicated treatments using contrast material. An X-ray has no sensation.

2. What is the purpose of an X-ray?

An X-ray may be ordered by your doctor to:

  • Examine a painful or uncomfortable location on your body.

  • Keep track of the progression of a condition, such as osteoporosis.

  • Examine the efficacy of a given medication

The following conditions may necessitate an X-ray: bone cancer, breast tumours, enlarged heart, blocked blood vessels, conditions affecting your lungs, digestive problems.

3. The continuous X-ray spectrum is a result of which effect?

The fact that the change in velocity that causes the emission of much of the radiation in a tube used as a radiography source is a random process that produces photons of varied energy results in continuous X-ray radiation. Because of this Bremsstrahlung emission, the spectrum of an X-ray tube usually features a broad lump. The inverse photoelectric effect is the process of incoming electrons emitting X-rays. The inverse photoelectric effect is responsible for the continuous section of the X-ray spectrum.

4. How are Continuous X-rays and Characteristic X-rays emitted?

Continuous X-rays are emitted due to the conversion of the kinetic energy of an electron into a photon, which varies from collision to collision and is independent of material. Hence, continuous X-rays provide no information about the element from which they are being emitted, but Characteristic X-rays are emitted due to the transitions of electrons among different shells. The wavelength of the X-rays emitted in these transitions has a definite value for a particular element.

5. What is the main use of X-ray?

X- Rays are mostly used in medicine. X-ray machines, which take images of a patient's body, are a common application. If, for example, an arm or leg was broken, the limb would be placed in front of the X-ray with a piece of photographic film behind it. The X-ray is switched on for a brief moment before proceeding to the film. The rays easily pass through skin and flesh, appearing as dark spots on the picture, but they have a harder time passing through bone.

6. How is a continuous X-ray spectrum produced?

Continuous X-rays are created when a free moving electron gets in close enough range of an atomic nucleus that the two electromagnetically interact (remember that electrons have a negative charge and nuclei have a positive charge). When this occurs, the electron will lose some of its kinetic energy.

7. Can too many X-rays harm you?

Exposure to high radiation levels can have a range of effects, such as vomiting, bleeding, fainting, hair loss, and the loss of skin and hair. Nonetheless, the X-rays give out such a low amount of radiation that they are not believed to cause any immediate health problems.

8. Do X-rays travel in waves?

Energy travels in waves, the length of which is measurable. X-rays with a shorter wavelength have a higher frequency and penetrate farther than rays having longer wavelengths. X-radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation produced when electrons moving with great speed collide with the matter.

9. Do X-rays shorten your life?

X-rays are very low and thus the risk of cancer is so low that no study can demonstrate it. The information given to you about the reduction of 3 years of your life for each X-ray is not true.