What is the significance of positive particles coming off of thorium
in Rutherford's experiment? Did it interact with the gold atoms differently
than other particles would have?
Rebounding alpha particles imply that there is a concentrated mass with
positive charge in the center of gold atoms, or for that matter any kind of
atoms. You need positive charge to repel positively charged alpha particles,
and mass is required so that alpha particles rebound without significant
affect on this mass.
Other particles would have behaved in the same way if they were positively
charged and were of less massive than the alpha particles. For a larger
mass, the nucleus will itself start recoiling - nucleus is the term used
for the central mass.
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Update: June 2012