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When one of these particles strikes an atom it can dislodge one or more protons and/or neutrons from that atom, producing a different element or a different isotope of the original element.
The parent isotopes are the most abundant of these elements, and are common in crustal material, whereas the radioactive daughter nuclei are not commonly produced by other processes.
The production rate for a particular nuclide is a function of geomagnetic latitude, the amount of sky that can be seen from the point that is sampled, elevation, sample depth, and density of the material in which the sample is embedded.
Decay rates are given by the decay constants of the nuclides.
At Earth's surface most of these nuclides are produced by neutron spallation.
Using certain cosmogenic radionuclides, scientists can date how long a particular surface has been exposed, how long a certain piece of material has been buried, or how quickly a location or drainage basin is eroding.