Change in solar activity brings increased radiation risk to air passengers
Radiation risks to aircraft are likely to increase when the sun moves from its present grand solar maximum to lower levels of activity, according to new research from the University of Reading in the UK. The researchers say that this a serious concern because our present-day engineering, design, operation and insurance of vulnerable technology is based on past experience from the space age and does not yet account for long-term changes in space climate. The scientists paid particular attention to the radiation effects on aircraft crew and passengers on long-distance flights.
The sun has been in a “grand solar maximum” phase, which has already lasted longer than any other such maximum in the past 9.3 millennia and is expected to end soon. The changes in near-Earth space that will result will return the Earth to conditions that last prevailed before the advent of susceptible modern operational systems, such as spacecraft, power distribution grids and aircraft. The study says that at cruise altitudes of commercial aviation, particularly at higher latitudes, high-energy ionising radiation such as solar energetic particles and galactic cosmic rays pose threats through single-event upsets in electronics critical to flight safety and through the radiation exposure of crew and passengers.
[pictured: The Sun photographed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory]