Science

'Cosmic rays from exploding stars affect Earth's climate'

'Cosmic rays from exploding stars affect Earth's climate'”

Cosmic rays - emitted from the Sun and stuff far out in space - smash into the particles in Earth's atmosphere, knocking off electrons and producing charged particles: ions. The nearby explosion of a dead star flings cosmic rays at Earth, creating loads of ions in the atmosphere.

Changes in the atmosphere's ionization correlated to changes in cloud condensation nuclei, which affect the properties of clouds.

And as more clouds form, the climate cools which can have an impact on long term weather cycles, researchers have said.

As clouds regulate the level of solar energy that reaches Earth's surface, the impact of cosmic rays on cloud formation can provide insight into why climate has varied in the past - and how it will do so in the future. Until now, scientists had assumed additional small aerosols would not grow and become cloud condensation nuclei as no mechanism to facilitate this process was known. Estimates suggest that small aerosols need to get about a million times heavier before they can start making clouds.

The researchers said the effect of cosmic rays 'gives a physical foundation to the large body of empirical evidence showing that solar activity plays a role in variations in Earth's climate'.

The study, published in journal nature Communications, also showed the sun's magnetic activity alters the influx of cosmic rays onto Earth. The ideas were then tested in a massive cloud chamber. More aerosols equal more clouds, and these eventually change the temperature on Earth.

There has always been speculation that cosmic rays (artist's impression) - charged particles travelling through space - may affect our atmosphere.

Dr Hamish Gordon, from the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds, UK, said: "This is an interesting and plausible result, and if it stands up to more detailed scrutiny it may prove an important contribution to aerosol microphysics".

The team studied the effects of cosmic rays on a simulation of Earth's atmosphere, recreated inside a cloud chamber, which mimics the planet's upper atmosphere inside a controlled lab setting where these interactions can be studied up close.

The sun does not show too many sun spots when it enters a period of low solar output (measured using TSI values or Total Solar Irradiance).

When a pair of British scientists looked at the correlation between cosmic ray flux and temperature change, they found solar activity and its influence on cosmic ray concentrations could be responsible for only a small percentage of temperature variation. The repeated periods of cooling and heating in global temperatures by 2C over the past 10,000 years could be down to changes in solar activity and cosmic rays. "As a result of this and other work, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change state that no robust association between changes in cosmic rays and cloudiness has been identified".



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