Guide Cosmic Rays at Earth

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Cosmic rays are high energy charged particles which typically have energies ranging between 10 6 - 10 20 eV 10 - 10 J.

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Although in these terms this does not sound a very large amount of energy, when one considers the size of the cosmic rays, typically 10 kg and of the order 10 m in radius it can be appreciated that this is a large energy for each of these minute particles to have. Cosmic rays originate in outer space, mainly from supernova explosions but also from stars - click here to see where cosmic rays come from travel at the speed of light and strike the Earth from all directions.

The cosmic rays strike the Earth's surface at the rate of about 1 cosmic ray every square centimetre every minute. GCR originate outside the solar system and are likely formed by explosive events such as supernova. These nuclei are fully ionized, meaning all electrons have been stripped from these atoms.

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Because of this, these particles interact with and are influenced by magnetic fields. Over the course of a solar cycle the solar wind modulates the fraction of the lower-energy GCR particles such that a majority cannot penetrate to Earth near solar maximum. Near solar minimum, in the absence of many coronal mass ejections and their corresponding magnetic fields, GCR particles have easier access to Earth. Just as the solar cycle follows a roughly year cycle, so does the GCR, with its maximum, however, coming near solar minimum.

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But unlike the solar cycle, where bursts of activity can change the environment quickly, the GCR spectrum remains relatively constant in energy and composition, varying only slowly with time. The researchers pointed out that there is one such black hole at the center of galaxy NGC , conveniently positioned between the two bubbles. As such, the bubbles may serve as cosmic particle accelerators, potentially helping particles reach energies times stronger than those generated by CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

These high-speed, high-energy particles could be one source of the blazing cosmic rays that perpetually rain down on Earth, the researchers wrote.

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  • Further research is needed to bear out this hypothesis. If that's the case, you could say that these giant space bubbles might be inadvertently spitting their nuclear cooties over us — not so different from toddlers, after all.