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Mysterious Increase in Cosmic Rays

An echo of Whitley's new novel! - Whitley's latest novel The Omega Point, which will be published in June, is about energy from a distant supernova entering our solar system and gradually causing havoc. The leading edge of such an event would take the form of a massive increase in cosmic rays suddenly appearing. This has just happened. According to sensors on NASA's ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer) spacecraft, galactic cosmic rays have just hit a Space Age high. In PhysOrg.com, Tony Phillips quotes researcher Richard Mewaldt as saying, "In 2009, cosmic ray intensities have increased 19% beyond anything we've seen in the past 50 years. The increase is significant, and it could mean we need to re-think how much radiation shielding astronauts take with them on deep-space missions."

The cause of the surge is the current solar minimum, resulting in fewer sunspots. Weak solar activity sets the stage for what Mewaldt calls "a perfect storm of cosmic rays."

Phillips quotes NASA's Dean Pesnell as saying, "We're experiencing the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century, so it is no surprise that cosmic rays are at record levels for the Space Age." The sun's magnetic field is our first line of defense against these highly-charged, energetic particles. Pesnell says, "At times of low solar activity, this natural shielding is weakened, and more cosmic rays are able to reach the inner solar system."

This could slow down our space program. "The space era has so far experienced a time of relatively low cosmic ray activity," says Mewaldt. "We may now be returning to levels typical of past centuries."

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