As humans, we are constantly exposed to radiation from various sources such as the sun and even our smartphones. But did you know that cosmic rays, high-energy particles that originate from outer space, also bombard our planet every day?
Cosmic rays were first discovered in 1912 by Victor Hess, an Austrian physicist who flew a series of hot air balloons equipped with radiation detectors. He found that the level of ionizing radiation increased as he reached higher altitudes, indicating that the source was beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
So where do cosmic rays come from? Most of them originate from outside our solar system and travel at nearly the speed of light before colliding with atoms in Earth’s atmosphere. These collisions create showers of secondary particles that rain down on us.
While cosmic rays may seem like a distant phenomenon, they have real-world implications for space exploration and even aviation safety. Cosmic rays can penetrate spacecraft and damage electronics or harm astronauts’ health during long-term missions. In fact, NASA is currently studying ways to protect astronauts from these high-energy particles.
On Earth, cosmic rays can also affect commercial airlines by increasing their exposure to ionizing radiation at high altitudes. Pilots and flight attendants are considered “occupational radiologists” due to their increased exposure levels compared to other professions.
But it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to cosmic rays. Scientists are using them as tools to study everything from the origins of the universe to climate change on Earth. For example, researchers studying ice cores in Antarctica use cosmic ray measurements to determine how much snowfall occurred over thousands of years.
In conclusion, while we cannot escape being bombarded by cosmic rays every day, understanding this phenomenon has led us to new discoveries about our universe and helped us prepare for future space exploration missions. So next time you look up at the sky on a clear night, remember there is so much more happening above us than meets the eye – including a bombardment of cosmic rays.