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Space Science

Cosmic Ray Intensity Reaches Highest Levels In 50 years 263

Posted by samzenpus
from the start-the-mutations dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A NASA probe found that cosmic ray intensities in 2009 had increased by almost 20 percent beyond anything seen in the past 50 years. Such cosmic rays arise from distant supernova explosions and consist mostly of protons and heavier subatomic particles — just one cosmic ray could disable unlucky satellites or even put a mission to Mars in jeopardy."
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Cosmic Ray Intensity Reaches Highest Levels In 50 years

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:18PM (#29601205)

    Clearly we need more energy-efficient stars.

  • BOFH (Score:5, Funny)

    by xanadu-xtroot.com (450073) <xanadu.inorbit@com> on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:22PM (#29601225) Homepage Journal
    BOFH Excuse #98734

    "It's Cosmic Rays mutating the electrons."

  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:25PM (#29601247) Homepage
    In this Brian de Palma film, a mission to rescue astronauts stranded on the titular planet finds a hill shaped like a giant face, with alien technology inside.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:26PM (#29601253)

    Will the legacy of environmental disaster that was George W. Bush's presidency never end?

    • Not only did Bush not respect international law, but he doesn't even respect physical law and the limits on the speed of light!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      I don't know... Near the end of the Clinton Administrator Big gas guzzling SUV were all the rage and status symbols. At the end of the Bush Administration Small light hybrid cars were all the rage. In many ways the Bush administration threw "Tough Love" actually changed american behaviors more then any other president. Letting us go to far make huge mistakes and take the consequences, Seems to help alter our culture far better then just normal regulation where people just see it as Nanny state.

  • by Ironchew (1069966) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:32PM (#29601295)

    Cosmic rays damaging electronic equipment? I've been using this computer for years and my RAM is doing just fi

    • by siddesu (698447) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:39PM (#29601335)
      How did you manage to submit half the posting after your RAM was hit by a cosmic ra
      • by B4light (1144317) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:46PM (#29601367)
        I don't suppose Candlejack has anything to do wi
        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:11PM (#29601521)

          in the olden days, by crackey we would use the
          NO CARRIER
          joke. you younguns wouldn't even know what a carrier was.
          Now get off my lawn.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Meh. No carrier happens when the FBI cuts your phone line. In this case, his computer was hit by a cosmic ray. Totally different joke. Obviously land-mowing don't make you smart.
          • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:55PM (#29601771)

            you younguns wouldn't even know what a carrier was.

            A big boat that holds airplanes?

          • Nowadays, they use the Candlejack joke. Whether that is more fun or less fun, it's up t
          • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @01:38AM (#29602233)

            Carrier, two examples that I'm aware of:

            First is the age old joke:

            Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South to
            avoid collision.

            Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the
            North to avoid a collision.

            Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15
            degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

            Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again,
            divert YOUR course.

            Canadians: No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.

            Americans: THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS LINCOLN, THE SECOND
            LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES' ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE
            ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS
            SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES
            NORTH--I SAY AGAIN, THAT'S ONE FIVE DEGREES NORTH--OR
            COUNTER-MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.

            Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

            Second in the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy..

            Use Carrier in a sentence..

            "My girlfriend was so drunk she couldn't walk home, so I had to carrier."

          • by forand (530402)
            CARRIER was the name of the pigeon I used to transmit information between work and external offices.
          • by Yvanhoe (564877)
            A Protoss vehicle ?
          • A carrier brings me my network kit in large boxes, or is that a courier? Carrie Fisher? I dunno.

            Anyw £($_! NO PACKET

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dogtanian (588974)

        Cosmic rays damaging electronic equipment? I've been using this computer for years and my RAM is doing just fi

        How did you manage to submit half the posting after your RAM was hit by a cosmic ra

        He didn't- what he originally typed was

        "Help, my RAM is being corrupted up by cosmic rays."

        Which just goes to prove his point!

        By the way, I'm having the same problems with random-but-oddly-coincidental data corruption so if you see anything odd with this message DISREgarD th4T i 5UCk c0CKS. Thank you.

  • by Jason Pollock (45537) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:33PM (#29601303) Homepage

    I was wondering, "Why are cosmic rays so dangerous, It's just protons and electrons, just like the solar wind".

    However, there's a huge energy difference between the two.

    The particles in cosmic radiation have 1x10^20eV and the solar wind is 1x10^3eV

    So, while it's the same "stuff", the cosmic particles are moving a lot faster relative to us.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_wind [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_radiation [wikipedia.org]

    • by MachDelta (704883) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:55PM (#29601425)

      So it's like the difference between being hit by a car going 1mph and one going 100,000,000,000,000,000mph? Am I doing these car analogy things right?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:44PM (#29601721)

        The car analogy should more properly compare the increase in non-relativistic Kinetic Energy. KE=0.5 m v^2, so it should be an increase of sqrt(10^17), which is about 3 x 10^8 (also amusingly the speed of light in S.I. units).

        like the difference between being hit by a car going 1mph and one going 300'000'000mph?

        • by Thanshin (1188877)

          The car analogy should more properly compare the increase in non-relativistic Kinetic Energy. KE=0.5 m v^2, so it should be an increase of sqrt(10^17), which is about 3 x 10^8 (also amusingly the speed of light in S.I. units).

          like the difference between being hit by a car going 1mph and one going 300'000'000mph?

          Actually it's more like the difference between being hit by a car at 1km/h and one going at the speed of light. Which, would not be so different from the cosmic rays.

          From which we can conclude that cosmic rays are just the third stage of cars that kept accelerating after becoming solar wind.

      • by ignavus (213578) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:57PM (#29601783)

        So it's like the difference between being hit by a car going 1mph and one going 100,000,000,000,000,000mph? Am I doing these car analogy things right?

        But the cars are very tiny.

        • by kimvette (919543)

          So, what, cosmic rays are Yugos? Geo Metros? Mini Coopers? Help us out here!

        • by H0p313ss (811249)

          So it's like the difference between being hit by a car going 1mph and one going 100,000,000,000,000,000mph? Am I doing these car analogy things right?

          But the cars are very tiny.

          Do they get stuck in tubes?

        • by MarkRose (820682)

          I used to hit my baby brother with Hot Wheels... does that mean cosmic rays are mostly harmless?

      • It's really more like the difference between getting hit by a pebble at 1mm per hour and a baseball at 23mph. ;)
      • by antibryce (124264)

        it's more like the difference between Moby Dick and the entire Library of Congress.

      • Basically, it's the difference between buying American vs German.

    • I dunno - I thought it happened every time Nemesis came around. The Mayan calendar, and all that other nonsense. The dark star approaches (insert something sinister, like the theme from Jaws) and there's nothing we can do about it!!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by somepunk (720296)
      That's the most extreme upper limit. Only a handful of these extremem events [fourmilab.ch] have been recorded. Furthermore, cosmic rays (like particles from solar wind) almost never impact you directly, unless you're in space. They interact with the atmosphere, creating showers of particles, which spread the energy over a large area. I'm not going to do the math now, but the useful figure for effecting electronics might be per square cm per year, at ground level. Most of the cross section of your computer wouldn't notice
    • by forand (530402)
      It is much more complex than that. The flux of 10^20 eV particles has NOT increased it is still very very low (like 1 per 100km^2 per century). Check out the Auger Southern observatory site for some info on those particles. What is being discussed in this article is much lower energies. These cause damage only as a side effect and virtually all space mission will not be effected by them. What can happen is that electronics which are not radiation hardened can be put into a funky state by the passage of a c
  • Use ECC Memory (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DigiShaman (671371)

    I guess now would be a good time to use ECC RAM in consumer PCs and not just servers anymore. In fact, I've always been in favor of ECC in every workstation. At least nVidia is talking it seriously.

    FYI. Cosmic rays have been known to cause bit-flips in RAM. That's why using ECC is important in preventing data corruption committed back to disk.

    • *rimshot* (Score:5, Funny)

      by Valdrax (32670) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:44PM (#29601355)

      FYI. Cosmic rays have been known to cause bit-flips in RAM.

      But the odds are astronomical.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by lordholm (649770)

        Yes, sort of for one single bit. The last numbers I saw where something like one bit-flip per gigabyte-month RAM. So while the probability of flipping one specific bit is astronomical, it adds up pretty quickly...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I guess now would be a good time to use ECC RAM in consumer PCs and not just servers anymore.

      Note that Intel are a bunch of $^@#! and try to segment the market by disabling this on their desktop processors. I've been trying to decide whether getting ECC might just be worth taking the 30% (or whatever it is at your favored price point) performance hit of going with AMD.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DigiShaman (671371)

        According to Crucial and other sites that benchmark, going ECC is only 2% slower than non-ECC memory. That's a very good trade off for reliability IMHO.

        As for Intel. Yes, ECC support is restricted to their Xeon line now. You will also need a workstation motherboard. Even though Intel's latest "high-end" desktop gaming board (X58 chipset) supports the Xeon CPU, ECC support is not available. At least, no reference was mentioned in the manual.

        I think my next workstation build will be AMD based.

  • WTF??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vrmlguy (120854) <samwyse.gmail@com> on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:35PM (#29601315) Homepage Journal

    Centuries ago, cosmic-ray concentrations grew to be as much as 200 percent more intense than they are now, yet humankind survived.

    How do we know this? Who was measuring cosmic-ray concentrations centuries ago, and how did they measure them? How accurate were the measurements, and how certain are we of that accuracy?

    According to wikipedia [wikipedia.org], "In 1910 Theodor Wulf developed an electrometer (a device to measure the rate of ion production inside a hermetically sealed container) and used it to show higher levels of radiation at the top of the Eiffel Tower than at its base." That sounds like a bit less than "centuries ago".

  • by mbone (558574) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:55PM (#29601435)

    The Sun has been very quiet recently, so this is not surprising. Now that the Sunspots are back [westender.com.au] and the Sun is getting more active, I would expect things to go back to normal.

  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:59PM (#29601461) Journal
    Let's hear it for cosmic rays. We need something to kick evolution into gear. Things seem to have been at a standstill lately.
    • Sort of an interesting idea. We know evolution proceeds in quick leaps ever once in a while. While I'm sure much of these had more to do with temperature and oxygen levels. But I bet certain cosmic events could act as a catalyst for evolution. Even if cosmic rays aren't necessarily one of them.
    • Oh yeah. The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades!!!

    • Let's hear it for cosmic rays. We need something to kick evolution into gear. Things seem to have been at a standstill lately.

      I disagree, it's just not a good idea. I've got some bad experiences with this. When the last wave of cosmic rays hit, I got a useless superpower (the power to kill a yak from 200 yards away). But there are no yaks where I live.

  • SUV's are responsible for global warming. Damn them!

    • Re:However (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday October 01, 2009 @12:00PM (#29606843) Homepage Journal

      SUV's are responsible for global warming. Damn them!

      SUVs are partly responsible for global warming, but so are compact cars (which are less responsible than SUVs). But as to the "damn them", considering that more people die in SUVs per passenger mile than any other type of vehicle, I'd say Darwin is working hard to get rid of the SUV drivers.

      SUVs are so dangerous because of a lot of factors:

      • Non-unibody construction
      • No crumple zones
      • Top heavy, so they'll roll over when a sensible car won't
      • Due to their weight they steer like a drunken cow
      • Due to their weight they have long stopping distances
      • Their size makes the drivers feel safe, even invincible

      BTW and offtopic, SUV is an acronym, not a contraction. The apostrophe doesn't belong there.

  • Not a Big Problem. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Suicidal Gir (939232) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:41PM (#29601699)

    I wouldn't raise alarm too much, cosmic rays affect a space craft in mainly three ways: Single Even Upset (SEU), Single Event Latchup (SEL), and Total Ionization Dose (TID) measured in kRad. The higher cosmic rays increase the TID, but all these satellites are built for it and it shouldn't raise an alarm except for very long term missions. SEUs and SELs are what the phrase "just one cosmic ray could disable unlucky satellites or even put a mission to Mars in jeopardy." is mentioning. SEUs aren't too much too worry about, usually nothing too harmful, just a few errors and at worst a reset of some subsystems. The bad one is the SELs. These can cause a temporary short and potentially cause damage. The key thing with SEUs and SELs is that they're typically temporary and the spacecraft's power systems nowadays can easily handle them. The solid state switches/fuses they started with Cassini (and are now typical for NASA missions) are very effective (accidently proven so during integration) and can cut off a shorted subsystem quite fast and prevent damage.

    In a nutshell, don't get your panties in a bunch.

    • In a nutshell, don't get your panties in a bunch.

      Though that would provide an extra degree of shielding in vital areas...

  • The solar activity is decreasing we are in a sunspot minimum temps will decrease on the earth and more cosmic rays will mean more rainfall due to the "cloud chamber effect" in the upper atmosphere.

  • Has anyone thought to run the supercolliders a couple times? I'd really like to know the spread on the superbowl.

  • by Mike610544 (578872) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @01:04AM (#29602071)
    I'm totally going to clear out my Bugzilla queue tomorrow:

    Bug 13272: Memory leak in widget_process_task()
    RESOLVED/INVALID: cosmic rays
    Bug 11207: Database corrupted by invalid user input
    RESOLVED/INVALID: cosmic rays
    Bug 12304: "if (A = B)" in the code where clearly "if (A == B)" was intended
    RESOLVED/INVALID: cosmic rays
  • Whoever was stupid enough to tag this " globalwarming " isn't doing the whole "Green" movement much good.

    That tag on this story just screams IGNORANCE.

  • What kind of rays? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bromskloss (750445) <auxiliary.addres ... NosPAm.gmail.com> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:20AM (#29603205)

    just one cosmic ray could disable unlucky satellites

    What is the nature of these "rays"? Duration, frequency, intensity and width would be of interest.

  • Any direct correlation between the activitity and the current natural earthquakes/typhoons etc?

  • by pkphilip (6861) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:27AM (#29614291)

    I posted this to Slashdot but it appears that the editors are more interested in Cosmic rays.

    To quote from Theregister:

    The world's source for global temperature record admits it's lost or destroyed all the original data that would allow a third party to construct a global temperature record. The destruction (or loss) of the data comes at a convenient time for the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in East Anglia - permitting it to snub FoIA requests to see the data.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/08/13/cru_missing/ [theregister.co.uk]

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