Let's talk a little about Cosmic Rays
Space in its tremendous immensity constantly generates phenomena that cause all kinds of effects on our planets, effects that have even been the cause of the evolution we know on earth today, yes, many theories affirm that a great cause of evolution on earth have been those hundreds of phenomena and natural forces that constantly collide with the Earth recurrently. In fact one of those phenomena that have apparently caused major impact on Earth are cosmic rays, outbursts of imperceptible energy but with a great effect on everything.
Cosmic rays are particles that come from space and that constantly impact the Earth from all parts of space. Most of these particles are protons or nucleus of atoms.
More specifically, cosmic rays are made of protons, helium nucleus and a heavy nucleus such as electrons and antimatter particles.
It should be noted that there is a variety of these cosmic rays that move at a speed very close to the speed of light, which is why they generate energy much higher than that produced in a particle accelerator.
Some scientists have categorized the spectra of cosmic rays in the following way:
- Electrons and positrons.
- Hydrogen nucleus.
- Helium nucleus.
- Lithium, Beryllium, Boron.
- Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Fluorine.
- Heavy: from Neon to Potassium.
- Very heavy: from Calcium to Zinc.
- Ultra-heavy: Z> 30.
Where do the cosmic rays come from?
After a century since the cosmic rays were discovered, a definitive explanation that determines the true origin of these particles has not yet been found, however, the most solid theory assumes that the majority of cosmic rays that impact with the earth are protons of high energy, while the rest are helium and another nucleus
It should be noted that previously it was believed that cosmic rays could originate as a result of gamma-ray bursts that usually form in the collapse of large stars to form black holes, however, this theory was discarded because said bursts would have generated neutrinos from high energy, but no concrete evidence of this has yet been found.
Another theory to explain how they are formed is that they originate as a consequence of the acceleration of protons at very far distances, possibly due to the explosion of supernovas, photons from the big bang or massive black holes.
Recently, through some research, it was possible to determine that new supernovas that have very high magnetic fields could be able to produce higher energy cosmic rays.
In short, most of the lower-energy cosmic rays that impact the Earth come from somewhere within our galaxy, while the higher-energy cosmic rays usually come from sources outside our galaxy.
Are they dangerous?
Here, on Earth, the magnetosphere keeps us safe from cosmic rays with more energy, while usually, those with less energy are almost harmless.
However, they sometimes affect the operation of electronic components, as they can cause integrated circuit components to suffer momentary errors; like some data corruption or generating an error in a processor.
It should be noted that at high altitudes, cosmic rays could cause problems in the satellites causing software errors.
In fact, it is believed that this was one of the main causes of an Airbus 330 aircraft (Qantas flight 72) in 2008, suffering two sudden height drops after a failure in the control system.
In theory, on Earth, they do not generate any kind of danger, but the same does not happen with the Moon and Mars since these two don't have a magnetic field like that of our planet, they allow the cosmic rays to directly impact.
Detection of cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays are detected indirectly on the surface of the Earth, by observing cascades of secondary particles that are generated in the air.
When a cosmic particle hits a molecule of air, it generates a cascade of billions of particles that break the surface of the Earth.
The characteristics of particle cascades allow researchers to be able to obtain information about the energy, direction, and composition of the primary cosmic ray.
It should be noted that cosmic rays undergo compositional and energetic variation, which is why they are usually classified as:
- Primordial: Original composition with which the rays start from their source.
- Primary: Composition with which particles impact on Earth.
- Secondary: Composition that particles acquire when they enter the atmosphere through interaction with other atoms.
Energy of cosmic rays.
The amount of energy possessed by the cosmic ray particles that collide with the Earth is very varied and can range from energies lower than the TeV, to large energies greater than 10 20 eV.
The current "record" of particles with the greatest amount of energy is 3.2x10 20 eV -electron volt- which is more or less the energy that is transmitted to a soccer ball when given a kick. The surprising thing about this fact is that it is compressed and concentrated in only one subatomic particle, while the ball has more than 10 26 subatomic particles, which makes it an impressive magnitude.