Cosmic Rays, Space Weather and Larger Questions About the Universe | Space

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With the naked eye, you can’t see the weather in space, or feel the cosmic rays beaming down to Earth—but they can impact critical systems like our climate, computer connectivity, communications and even our health.

Supported in part by Georgia State’s RISE initiative, Regents’ Professor of Physics and Astronomy Xiaochun He is taking on some of the big questions by making measurement of these cosmic rays using the technologies developed in his fundamental nuclear physics research projects. He and his team are gauging how these rays are affecting earth’s climate, how they may have played a role in the origins of the universe and how they may play a role when cancer originates in the body.

Here, Dr. He shares what inspired this work and how studying cosmic rays can make an impact here on Earth.

What is space weather and why do we need to monitor it?

Space weather is a general term for describing the solar activities, including coronal mass ejection from the Sun and things like geomagnetic storms. Severe solar storms could cause significant interruptions to our communication system, potentially damage satellites and affect the long-distance power grid, for example.

Are cosmic rays different from space weather?

Most of the energetic cosmic ray particles —mainly protons —have galactic origin, some of them enter the solar system and bombard the Earth’s atmosphere. These cosmic ray particles collide with the molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere around at 15 kilometers in altitude and produce the secondary particles (called cosmic ray showers). The most secondary particles that reach to the surface of the earth are muon particles, which are detected by our detectors. Space weather does influence the amount of the cosmic ray particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere. This is why we can use the data from our detectors to study the changes in the space weather.

The new technology developed by Georgia State researchers is used for studying both space…

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