What Are Cosmic Rays?
CREDIT: Simon Swordy (U. Chicago), NASA
The next time any of your electronics act up for no apparent reason, you might find that cosmic rays are to blame.
Cosmic rays are high-energy protons that originate in shock waves from the remnants of supernovas — the death heaves of giant exploded stars. Shells of gas are ejected from a star before it collapses in a supernova explosion, and these highly-magnetic remnants speed up the particles to form cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays constantly rain down on Earth, and while the high-energy "primary" rays collide with atoms in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and rarely make it through to the ground, "secondary" particles are ejected from this collision and do reach us on the ground.
Radiation emitted from these cosmic rays has been known to cause abnormal and often mysterious behavior in some electronics, depending on how sensitive or vulnerable the microprocessors or memory chips are to the particles’ energy. Such abnormalities can be anything from data loss or altered programming, to much more serious corruptions of circuitry functions. Permanent damage is a possibility, though not always the case.
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