Solar wind not cosmic rays

As fascinating as I find the subject astronomy is not my forte. As I was lazing in a hammock yesterday afternoon enjoying the temperate weather soon to depart I looked up into the tossing leaves of my three poplars and thought about something I’d just written in the last post. I’m about to correct it. I wrote that our planet’s magnetic polls protected us from the bombardment of cosmic rays. No. The magnetism of Earth does protect our atmosphere by preventing solar winds from stripping the Earth bare. There is a connection with protection from gamma rays from space. Ozone. That’s the chemical that began disappearing from the South Pole a couple decades ago from all the chlorofluorocarbons that were released from spray cans and old refrigerators. That in turn pushed up melanomas (skin cancers) where the ozone was reduced.

So there is an indirect tie between gamma rays and our magnetic fields. The magnetism repels the solar wind that would strip the ozone and a lot of the rest of our atmosphere away. Gravitation plays a role too. Earth is the largest of the four inner “rocky” planets and has a little stronger hold on the light weight gaseous molecules as a result. The lightest of them are mose likely to fly off into space unless they are chemically combined with other elements.

The video above gives a good sense of what blasts our inner planets day in and day out. When the winds are particularly intense they produce northern and southern lights. When there is a particulary explosive event that is aimed directly at the Earth the consequences can interfere or even knock out communication systems. In one particulary vigorous such occasion that took place when electronic communications was limited to telegraphy world-wide communication was hit hard. It took place in 1859, on the eve of the Civil War, and was called the Carrington Event.

How such an event would affect our space stations or the astronauts within is unclear to me. We are discovering that being in outer space for long periods is not healthy for astronauts – at least in our current flimsy space craft. Better to stay on Earth for a long life.

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