Cosmic Rays Continue to Intensify

For the past two+ years, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been monitoring cosmic rays in the atmosphere above California with a series of more than 100 high-altitude balloon flights. They find that radiation levels have increased over the Golden State by 13% since March 2015. Now we know the same thing is happening over New England–only more so. The Earth to Sky team has flown balloons over Maine and New Hampshire four times since 2015, most recently on June 15, 2017. Results show that radiation in the stratosphere over the northeastern corner of the USA is not only stronger than California, but also intensifying much faster–a 19% increase in New England vs. 13% in California. What’s happening? Generally speaking, cosmic rays are increasing throughout the solar system. This is because of the sunspot cycle.



The sun is currently plunging toward a deep Solar Minimum. As it descends, the sun’s weakening magnetic field provides less and less shielding against high-energy cosmic rays from deep space. Every planet is getting an extra dose. The difference we see between California and New England is telling us something local about Earth. After the sun’s magnetic field deflects and weakens many cosmic rays, Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere provide another line of defense. These data show that central California is better defended by geomagnetism than New England. Earth to Sky Calculus is actively probing radiation levels around the planet with recent launches in Sweden, Norway, Chile, and many points across the USA. The data are interest to astronauts, climate scientists, air travelers, mountain climbers and many others. Stay tuned for more results as our Intercontinental Space Weather Balloon Network continues to fly around the world. Next week: Kansas! NOTE: The radiation sensors onboard our helium balloons detect secondary cosmic rays: that is, X-rays and gamma-rays in the energy range 10 keV to 20 MeV. These energies span the range of medical X-ray machines and airport security scanners (see Earth to Sky Calculus e Space Weather)..

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