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Extraterrestrial Pockets of Radiation Pose Potential Risk for Aircraft

Findings recently released by ARMAS indicate that sporadic clouds of solar radiation can be found at cruising altitudes.

It may be the final frontier, but it seems that space may also pose a radiation risk to high-flying aircraft. Or rather, as research published in the journal Space Weather has revealed, surges of solar winds in space can cause isolated areas of increased radiation at higher altitudes here on Earth.

The findings published in the quarterly publication are connected to the Automated Radiation Measurements for Aerospace Safety (ARMAS) project, which is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The research suggests that these sudden spikes in atmospheric radiation come from the Earth’s Van Allen belts. These areas are composed of charged particles which originated in the solar wind but are normally held and captured by the Earth’s magnetic field.

However, when the solar wind picks up, these particles can be dislodged and driven back toward the Earth in isolated flares. While these peaks are not detectable on the ground or at sea level, they are noticeable at high altitudes.

In terms of the risk these pockets pose to passengers and flight crew, lead researcher Dr. W. Kent Tobiska likened these areas of increased radiation to “clouds”. The study reveals that these clouds are not extreme in terms of their actual radiation levels, but rather, as the Guardian explained, they are “double the normal exposure you might expect flying at certain altitudes and latitudes.”

It is believed that these clouds could be avoided and the goal of the ARMAS project is to enable the scientific community to be able to map these flares as and when they happen. In terms of its impact on the air travel industry, the thinking is that this discovery might also see carriers operate at a lower altitude in order to lessen any potential health risks for crew and passengers.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

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Shankar Bro March 10, 2017

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