It is similar to the bow wave produced by a boat travelling faster than the speed of water waves. Cherenkov radiation occurs only if the particle’s speed is higher than the phase velocity of light in the material. Even at high energies the energy lost by Cherenkov radiation is much less than that by the other mechanisms (collisions, bremsstrahlung). It is named after Soviet physicist Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov, who shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1958 with Ilya Frank and Igor Tamm for the discovery of Cherenkov radiation, made in 1934.
Cherenkov radiation can be used to detect high-energy charged particles (especially beta particles). In nuclear reactors or in a spent nuclear fuel pool, beta particles (high-energy electrons) are released as the fission fragments decay. The glow is visible also after the chain reaction stops (in the reactor). The cherenkov radiation can characterize the remaining radioactivity of spent nuclear fuel, therefore it can be used for measuring of fuel burnup.
A Cherenkov detector is a particle detector, which is based on detection of Cherenkov radiation (visible light or UV photons). Cherenkov radiation is commonly produced in dielectric materials through Compton electrons or pair-production electrons and positrons. The intensity of light produced by this process is much less than that of luminescence (the basis for scintillation detector operation) requiring more sensitive optical photon detection equipment such as low light photo-multiplier tubes (PMT).
See also: Cherenkov Detector