Cosmic rays are streams of high energy tiny charged particles that constantly enter the atmosphere of the earth from outer space. In modern common usage, high energy particles with intrinsic mass are known as cosmic rays.
INTRODUCTION TO THE COSMIC RAYS
They consist mainly of 89% protons, 9% radiations and 2% of heavy nuclei of carbon, oxygen, iron and nitrogen. A very small fraction are stable particles of antimatter such as positrons or anti-protons. The precise nature of the remaining fraction is an area of active research. These collectively are called cosmic rays. They travel at a speed nearly equal to the speed of light.
When these tiny particles of primary cosmic rays collide with the nuclei of the air, they produce new particles called secondary cosmic rays. Secondary cosmic ray particles also travel at high speeds.
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The interaction of the primary rays with the Earth’s atmosphere produce a cascade of lighter particles, a so-called air shower. They further collide with other atoms and again create new particles. After several collisions on the way, only very few secondary cosmic ray particles are able to reach the surface of the Earth. Secondary cosmic rays consist mainly of positrons, neutrons, mesons and neutrinos. All these particles are called elementary or the fundamental particles.
THE ORIGIN OF COSMIC PARTICLES IN THE SPACE
You might be wondering where these cosmic particles find their origin in the outer space. I have come with certain possibilities. It is believed that most of the cosmic rays originate in the supernova explosions
CAUSES OF THE COSMIC RAYS
The small amount of radiation caused by cosmic rays is not enough to harm the Earth. They can do very little damage to the human body. These rays have been colliding with the earth for billions of years and life has been least affected by them. So, it is believed that cosmic rays are harmless.
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However, there is a possibility that cosmic rays may have a harmful effect on the astronauts. It is due to the fact that the intensity of cosmic rays is far greater in space than on earth. Cosmic rays attract great interest practically due to the damage they inflict on microelectronics and life outside the protection of the atmosphere and the magnetic field. There has been interest in investigating cosmic rays of even greater energies.
- Cosmic rays ionize the nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the atmosphere, which leads to a number of chemical reactions. One of these reactions is also responsible for the depletion of the Ozone layer.
- Cosmic rays are also responsible for the continuous production of a number of unstable isotopes in the earth’s atmosphere.
- Cosmic rays have sufficient energy to alter the states of elements in electronic integrated circuits. This causes transient errors to occur.
The transient errors may include corrupted data in the electronic memory devices or incorrect performance of the CPUs.