Effects on People and the Environment

Effects on People and the Environment

Cosmic radiation is an ionizing radiation and high rates can be dangerous for people and the environment. Fortunately the Earth has two protection shields, its magnetosphere and its atmosphere. Both reduce the radiation flux at sea-level to a harmless level. Without these shields the existence of living organisms and their development would not have been possible.

Strahlenbelastung / Radiation exposure

Source: DESY
Everywhere - the natural radiation exposure consists of different components and has a varying strength depending on the position on Earth.

At higher altitudes and towards the poles, however, the cosmic radiation increases resulting in a higher radiation exposure. For astronauts, pilots and flight attendants the radiation dose will be controlled by assigning certain routes, that tend to avoid the poles, to them, in order to not exceed the acceptable limit. Otherwise, the damage of human cells can create cancer.

Technical systems can also be influenced or damaged by the ionizing radiation. The electronics of satellites and spacecraft must be radiation-proof. Large energetic solar events produce a very intense flux of protons and electrons. These suddenly appearing events are very dangerous for ground and space based electrical and electronic systems. Therefore, a real-time cosmic particle monitoring system was installed to switch off endangered facilities in time. Spacial satellites continuously measure the particle flux and on the ground neutron monitors and muon telescope are installed.

But cosmic particles also create one of the most beautiful and spectacular phenomena in the night sky. The polar lights fascinate people in the area of the polar circles in the northern and southern hemisphere. These colorful moving lights appear even more significantly when there is high sun activity. The flux of protons and electrons is directed to the poles by the Earth's magnetic field lines. In these areas they excite the atoms of the atmosphere and thus create the polar lights.

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