Earth  ID: 11126

Cosmic Concern

Flying exposes humans to a number of health risks. But perhaps none is more obscure than the hidden threat posed by cosmic radiation. Particles shed from the sun and by exploding stars in distant galaxies constantly bathe our planet in a nuclear soup of hazardous energy. During unpredictable spurts of extreme solar activity, a surge of particles can penetrate Earth's protective magnetic field and enter the atmosphere, causing radiation levels at cruising altitudes near the poles to skyrocket. In humans, large doses of radiation can damage DNA and harm bodily tissue. To help ensure the safety of airline passengers and crew, a NASA-funded project called NAIRAS (Nowcast of Atmospheric Ionizing Radiation System) has modeled the impact of space weather on radiation levels in the atmosphere with up-to-the-hour accuracy. Now, travelers can tally how much cosmic radiation they can expect to receive on a given flight. Watch the animation to see a virtual tour of air traffic around the world.

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Story Credits

Lead Writer:
Kayvon Sharghi (USRA)

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Cover image courtesy of NASA/Steele Hill
Air traffic animation courtesy of John Frassanito & Associates, Inc.
Dose rate visualization and images courtesy of NASA/NAIRAS
Sun image courtesy of NASA/SDO

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