Puzzling Surplus of Cosmic Rays Bombarding Earth   

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Puzzling Surplus of Cosmic Rays Bombarding Earth



An artist's concept of cosmic rays hitting
Earth's upper atmosphere.
Credit: Simon Swordy, University of Chicago.
Larger image]

19 Nov 08 - An international team of researchers has discovered a puzzling surplus of high-energy electrons bombarding Earth from space. The source of these cosmic rays is unknown, but it must be close to the solar system and it could be made of dark matter. Their results are being reported in the Nov. 20th issue of the journal Nature.

                If you’ve read Magnetic Reversals and Evolutionary Leaps,
                you know that I'll think this is a big deal, because I say that
                cosmic rays dump excess radiation onto our planet, leading
                to mutations and evolutionary leaps.

Galactic cosmic rays are subatomic particles accelerated to almost light speed by distant supernova explosions and other violent events. They swarm through the Milky Way, forming a haze of high energy particles that enter the solar system from all directions. Cosmic rays consist mostly of protons and heavier atomic nuclei with a dash of electrons and photons spicing the mix.

"The source of these exotic electrons must be relatively close to the solar system—no more than a kiloparsec away," says co-author Jim Adams of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

For comparison, the disk of the spiral Milky Way galaxy is about thirty thousand parsecs wide. (One parsec approximately equals three light years.)

"Unfortunately," says co-author John Wefel of Louisiana State University. "We can't pinpoint the source in the sky."

For more information about this research, see "An excess of cosmic ray electrons at energies of 300-800 Gev," by J. Chang et al. in the Nov. 20, 2008, issue of Nature.





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