The Sun's magnetic field protects against Solar Energetic Particles (SEPs) and Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCRs). We will soon enter a solar minimum.
(PhysOrg.com) -- Radiation risks to airplanes and spacecraft are likely to increase when the Sun moves from its present grand solar maximum to lower levels of activity, says research from the University of Reading.
The researchers say this a serious concern because our present day engineering, design, operation and insurance of vulnerable technology is based on past experience from the space age and does not yet account for long-term change in space climate.
The scientists have paid particular attention to the radiation effects on aircraft crew and passengers on long-distance flights.
The Sun has been in a ‘grand solar maximum' which has already lasted longer than any other such maximum in the past 9.3 millennia and is expected to end soon. The changes in near-Earth space that will result will return Earth to conditions that last prevailed before the advent of susceptible modern operational systems, such as spacecraft, power distribution grids and aircraft.
The study says that at cruise altitudes of commercial aviation, particularly at higher latitudes, high-energy ionising radiations such as Solar Energetic Particles (SEPs) and Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCRs) pose threats through single event upsets in electronics critical to flight safety, and through the radiation exposure of crew and passengers.
GCRs are high energy particles generated by supernovae explosions in our galaxy and, because of the shielding effect of our Sun's magnetic field, they give a continuous radiation dose throughout the solar system that increases during a solar activity minimum and decreases during a solar maximum. SEPs are bursts of energetic particles that are formed from supersonic ejections of material from the solar atmosphere.