Earth’s Magnetic Shield is what prevents deadly cosmic ray particles from entering our atmosphere. This shield is what allowed life to flourish on Earth for millions of years. However, a newly discovered crack by a telescope in India, have scientists worried about its implications.
The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Cosmic Ray Laboratory in Ooty, India houses the GRAPES-3 muon telescope. It’s the largest and the most sensitive monitoring system of cosmic rays in the world. Scientists used the telescope to record a two-hour burst of cosmic rays measuring 20 GeV in 2017, June 22.
According to the scientists, this specific burst was the result of a giant cloud of plasma being ejected from the corona of the sun. The rays struck our planet at a speed of around 2.5 million kilometers per hour. This phenomenon caused a drastic compression of the magnetosphere by 3 points, from 11 to 14 the radius of Earth. Additionally, a strong geomagnetic storm was recorded which also lead to the forming of aurora borealis and even radio signal blackouts in several countries at higher altitudes.
After extensive analysis and simulations performed by the GRAPES-3 international team of researchers, they discovered that the Earth’s magnetic shield was weakened for a temporary period. Nonetheless, this allowed cosmic ray with lower energy to pass into the atmosphere. There are no specific details about the impact it had on the planet.
The study, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, found that the magnetic field managed to bent the particles around 180 degrees, to the night-side of the planet to its day-side. It is there that it was detected by the GRAPES-3 telescope as a burst of rays. Using various computer simulations including a 128-core computing farm built by the researchers, they managed to analyze and interpret the data.
This research can help us understand how future superstorms of cosmic rays could affect the planet and our technological infrastructure, and even endanger the wellbeing of astronauts living on the International Space Station. The more information we have the better we can anticipate and prepare for such an extraordinary event.
What do you think about the Earth’s magnetic shield being temporarily weakened?
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