What Are Cosmic Rays?

Space is amazing! There’s so much we still have yet to discover about it. But one thing that has been discovered is that space is full of radiation, and some of this radiation comes from outside our solar system.

It can be dangerous if you’re not careful.

The Sun produces a lot of energy in the form of light and heat. This energy travels through space as electromagnetic waves or photons.

What Are Cosmic Rays

These are invisible to us because they don’t interact with matter like other forms of radiation do. However, there is another type of radiation that does interact with matter: cosmic rays.

Cosmic rays are high-energy particles that travel through space at speeds close to the speed of light. They come from all directions in space, but most originate from beyond our Solar System.

The Earth’s atmosphere protects us from these particles, which explains why astronauts on long missions into deep space often experience problems such as headaches and nausea. It’s possible that exposure to cosmic rays and solar radiation can increase the risk of cancer.

Cosmic rays are charged particles. Their charges come from the electric force; therefore, they repel each other by moving away from their source. Because of this, they create a cloud around them.

Light also interacts with them, causing them to glow when they pass through an area where there isn’t enough air. In addition, they produce secondary particles called muons.

Cosmic rays consist mainly of protons, electrons, alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. Protons and neutrons are two types of subatomic particles that make up atoms.

Alpha particles are helium nuclei, while beta particles are electron nuclei. Gamma rays are high-speed packets of quanta (particles) of electromagnetic radiation.

Cosmic rays enter the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space every day. Most of them burn up in the upper layers of the atmosphere, but a few reach the ground.

When cosmic rays hit the Earth’s surface, they cause ionization, which means they change the molecules in the soil. Ionization occurs when a particle collides with a molecule and knocks off an atom.

If the collision happens between a proton and a nitrogen molecule, for example, then the resulting nitrogen atom will have extra protons attached to its nucleus.

These changes occur in the top layer of the soil, and the effects can last for years. Some people think that the increased radioactivity in the soil might affect plants, animals, and humans who eat food grown in contaminated areas.

How Do We Know About Cosmic Rays?

We know about cosmic rays because scientists have studied them since the 1920s.

Scientists first realized that the Earth was bombarded by particles from space when they noticed that radioactive elements were found in rocks collected from different parts of the world.

For instance, uranium and thorium are naturally occurring elements that decay over time. Uranium decays into lead, which is what makes lead pipes safe. Thorium decays into radon gas, which is used to detect leaks in buildings.

Scientists realized that the Earth must receive radiation from outside space because no one had ever seen any of these natural elements before. By studying the amount of radioactivity in various places, scientists could tell how much radiation the Earth receives.

Scientists also discovered that some of the particles coming from space are very energetic. One way to determine whether a particle is energetic is to measure its mass.

A more massive particle has more energy than a lighter particle. Particles that are less energetic are called low-mass particles. High-energy particles are heavy, so they are referred to as high-mass particles.

The highest-energy cosmic ray ever detected came from a supernova explosion in 1987. It weighed 3 billion times more than an atomic nucleus and had a kinetic energy equivalent to 10 million tons of TNT exploding at the speed of light!

How Does Radiation Affect Us?

Radiation affects us in many ways. First, it can damage our DNA, which controls all the cells in our bodies. This can result in cancer or birth defects. Second, radiation can alter proteins inside cells.

These altered proteins may be responsible for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Third, radiation can damage tissue.

This results in burns, cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Finally, radiation can interfere with normal cell growth and reproduction.

The most common type of radiation we encounter on a daily basis is background radiation. Background radiation comes from natural sources like the sun, the moon, and the stars.

It also comes from manmade sources like nuclear reactors, medical X-ray machines, and CT scanners.

Most of this radiation passes through the body without being absorbed or blocked. However, if you’re exposed to too much radiation, your body can’t handle it.

You’ll feel tired, weak, and sick. Your immune system won’t work properly, and you may get infections.

The U.S. government recommends that people limit their exposure to radiation to 100 millisieverts per year. That’s equal to about 1/1000th of the radiation received during a single chest x-ray.

What Are Cosmic Rays

Cosmic Rays: What Can They Do To Our Health?

Some people worry that cosmic rays might make us sick. But there isn’t enough evidence to prove that cosmic rays have much of a negative effect on us here on Earth.

They may be shooting through us all the time like tiny invisible bullets, but thanks to the atmosphere of our planet, taking most of the bullets for us, we’ve really got nothing to worry about.

Astronauts, on the other hand, are far more at risk, as they venture beyond the protective shield of the Earth’s atmosphere.

As mentioned earlier, after spending a long time in space throughout their lives, they will have an increased risk of cancer, central nervous system issues, and possibly even degenerative diseases.

It may be the greatest job in the world… but there’s certainly a price to pay for wandering amongst the stars.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve discussed, cosmic rays are just one form of ionizing radiation. There are many others, including X-rays, gamma rays, ultraviolet light, and radioactive substances.

Ionizing radiation has been linked to cancer, genetic mutations, and birth defects. 

It’s important to remember that radiation doesn’t just affect humans. It can harm animals, plants, and bacteria. And it can travel through the air, water, and soil. 

Cosmic radiation is a different kind of radiation and not as harmful as we might think. Though it is a type of ionizing radiation, and it can affect us adversely, there’s not enough of it on Earth to cause harm.

Cosmic radiation also has many benefits for our planet and us. For example, scientists believe that cosmic radiation protects Earth and helps it evolve. 

Some scientists even argue that if it wasn’t for cosmic radiation, we wouldn’t have life on our Earth. This is because cosmic radiation creates ozone in the upper atmosphere.

Ozone blocks dangerous ultraviolet light from reaching Earth’s surface. Without ozone, the Sun would burn up all the oxygen in our atmosphere.

This would create an environment where no one could survive. So, it’s safe to say that cosmic radiation plays a big role in keeping our planet, and us, alive.

Gordon Watts