|Tony Phillips reports that as the sunspot cycle declines, cosmic rays increase. Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been monitoring radiation levels in the stratosphere with frequent high-altitude balloon flights over California. Here are the latest results, current as of Nov. 11, 2016.|
Data show that cosmic ray levels are intensifying with an 11% increase since March 2015.
Cosmic rays are high-energy photons and subatomic particles accelerated in our direction by distant supernovas and other violent events in the Milky Way. Usually, cosmic rays are held at bay by the sun magnetic field, which envelops and protects all the planets in the Solar System. But the sun magnetic shield is weakening as the solar cycle shifts from Solar Max to Solar Minimum. As the sunspot cycle goes down, cosmic rays go up.
The sensors sent to the stratosphere to measure X-rays and gamma-rays are produced by the crash of primary cosmic rays into Earth atmosphere. These track increasing levels of radiation. The increase is expected to continue for years to come as solar activity plunges toward a deep Solar Minimum in 2019-2020.
Recently, the scope of the measurements have increased beyond California with launch sites now in three continents ... North America, South America and soon above the Arctic Circle in Europe. This Intercontinental Space Weather Balloon Network will allow measurement of radiation and the variable protection received from Earth magnetic field and atmosphere as a function of location around the globe, which as they have observed in California.