Airline passengers face increasing risk of space radiation

Air travelers, especially those who travel frequently or take long journeys, are increasingly at risk of being exposed to particle radiation from space, and that danger will increase in coming years, according to a study released today.

An investigation by the University of Colorado at Boulder reveals that exposure to space radiation, almost inevitable in overflying the poles, is equivalent to that which is received when a person takes an x-ray of the chest.

Delores Knipp, the study’s author, points out that, in addition to the risks and inconveniences associated with traveling by plane, from terrorism to being pulled from the aircraft by force, passengers should now be concerned that radiation from space does not change their DNA or alter the functioning of their cells.

And over the next decade, when solar activity is expected to decline, the problem will increase because, for that reason, more particles from space will reach the earth without being diverted by the sun or by the solar wind, notes the study .

US airline pilots “are sufficiently preoccupied to attend conferences (on space weather) because they are aware of the latest research on aviation radiation,” Knipp said in his study.

The author explains that her research began when she connected the imminent beginning of the so-called “minimum solar cycle”, which lasts about 22 years, during which solar activity is reduced, with the ability of cosmic rays to penetrate the interior of aircraft .

Knipp used NASA’s previous research, as well as measurements made by hot air balloons on incoming radiation and computer-developed models, to determine that when space particles enter the aircraft they create a high-energy “particle rain” .

“In the near future, scientists need to transform the knowledge we have gained into standardized and practical measures to assess the long-term health impact on crew and passengers,” she said.

In addition, he said, airlines should prepare for “increased space radiation”, which could lead to routes or cancel some of the 100,000 flights a day worldwide to avoid overexposure to that radiation.

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