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Difference Between X-Rays and Gamma Rays


X-rays and gamma rays are electromagnetic radiation produced by different materials around us. Electromagnetic rays refer to a photon stream traveling in a wave-like pattern and circling at the speed of light. X-rays and gamma rays are ionizing radiations used in CT-scans and X-ray for diagnostic purposes. X-rays are more common in our daily life, while gamma rays are attributed to nuclear activity and irradiation. It is typically believed that x-rays have longer wavelengths than gamma rays, however it is still not the ultimate criteria for differentiating x-rays and gamma rays.

Keep reading to know all the differences between x-rays and gamma rays.

Comparison Table

FactorsX-raysGamma Rays
of electron
from nuclei
Only one at a timeMany at a time
UsesAstronomy, restoration,
bone disease diagnosis, etc.
Cancer treatment

What are X-Rays?

X-rays are electromagnetic rays discovered by German physicist, “Wilhelm Röntgen” in 1895. However, he was not the one to study their effect on living and non-living things initially.

X-rays fall between UV and gamma rays in the electromagnetic spectrum and have a wavelength ranging from 0.01 to 10 nanometers. They correspond to frequencies within 3 × 1019 Hz and 3×1016 Hz.

X-rays result from the collision of high-velocity electrons with metal plates. The electrons get absorbed and emit energy in the form of x-rays. They are ionizing rays that can ionize molecules and compounds by detaching the electron from the atoms.


Properties of X-Rays

  • X-rays have longer wavelength electromagnetic rays
  • X-ray production requires high voltage to collide electrons
  • They travel in a straight line in the form of waves
  • X-rays do not have an electric charge
  • They can travel in vacuum
  • They help detect bone-related diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Uses of X-Rays

X-rays are used in restoration, astronomy, security, etc. Their most common application is in medical sciences to diagnose bone-related diseases and disorders. When the x-rays come in contact with human tissues, the bones absorb the x-rays, producing a white image on the X-ray sheet. These rays do not pass through soft tissues and organs like skin; they appear black.

What are Gamma Rays?

Gamma rays are high-frequency radioactive radiations comprising high-energy photons. They have shorter wavelengths of less than 10 picometers and possess frequencies above 10 exahertx and 100 KeV energy.

Gamma rays were first discovered by French chemist and physicist, “Paul Villard” in 1900. Ernest Rutherford studied them further and named them “gamma ray” in 1903.

Radioactive nuclei emit these ionizing rays, which are not as easily detected as other types of rays in our surroundings. Radioactive nuclei going through alpha or beta radiation are in an excited state and lose energy by emitting gamma photons. Thus, they are more energetic compared to x-rays and have a higher ionizing power. They also possess a higher penetration level.

Mirrors do not detect and reflect gamma rays because of their high density. Researchers and nuclear scientists use gamma rays telescopes to detect gamma rays.

However, gamma rays are considered dangerous to the human body. Their ionizing properties may alter the structure of tissues, DNA, and RNA in the body.

Gamma Rays-Radioactive-Material

Properties of Gamma Rays

  • Radioactive nuclei emit gamma radiations
  • They can cause nuclear reactions
  • Gamma rays have higher penetrating power than others
  • They are high-frequency rays with shorter wavelength
  • Their ionizing power is not as high as X-rays
  • Resting gamma ray photons have zero mass

Uses of Gamma Rays

Gamma rays are used in medicine and the real stone industry. They change the properties of some semi-precious stones, such as white topaz. Gamma rays are widely used in medicine, especially in treating benign and malignant cancerous tumors in the body. It sterilizes surgical instruments, kills bacteria, and viruses living on surfaces.

Similarities Between X-Rays and Gamma Rays

  • They are types of electromagnetic radiation
  • X-rays and gamma rays are photons in the form of waves
  • They do not carry any charge
  • They possess high-energy and high-frequency

Difference Between X-Rays and Gamma Rays



X-rays are produced by the collision of electrons at high voltage.

Gamma Rays

Alternatively, radioactive nuclei emit gamma radiation in an excited state.



X-rays generally have a longer wavelength than gamma rays.

Gamma Rays

Contrarily, gamma rays are of a shorter wavelength.



X-rays have a higher ionization and ionize more particles.

Gamma Rays

On the other hand, gamma rays have a lower ionization than x-rays.



X-rays exhibit comparatively lesser penetration.

Gamma Rays

At the same time, gamma rays have higher penetration ability.



X-rays are used in security, astronomy, restoration, and diagnosis of bone diseases and fractures, but not in sprains.

Gamma Rays

On the contrary, gamma rays are a part of radiation therapy to kill cancer cells by altering their DNA.

Are X-Rays and Gamma Rays Dangerous?

X-rays and gamma rays are considered dangerous because of their effect on cells in living organisms. Gamma rays have the ability to damage the tissue and DNA in genes. Contrarily, X-rays are not considered as dangerous as gamma rays and are thus safe to use in medical diagnosis. They do not incur any harm to the body in low doses, but experts suggest taking care in an area with continuously high emission of x-rays to prevent health issues.

The Bottom Line

X-rays and gamma rays are forms of electromagnetic radiation. They comprise bundles of photons traveling in a straight line, forming waves. X-rays are emitted by the activity of electrons, while radioactive nuclei release gamma rays. The main difference between x-rays and gamma rays is their penetration and wavelength. Gamma rays have a shorter wavelength, less ionizing power, and a higher penetration than x-rays. They both have applications in the medical field. X-rays help diagnose the disease, while gamma rays assist in killing cancer cells. An uncontrolled amount of gamma rays may kill healthy cells.

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