Other Voices: A new climate theory: Cosmoclimatology
“The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change” is a book written by Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Calder. The following is an attempt, in a few paragraphs, to explain a fascinating and intriguing new book and new theory on climate change.
Could Earth’s ever-changing climate be caused by varying numbers of cosmic rays entering the atmosphere? Cosmic rays, primarily from our galaxy (the Milky Way), strike our atmosphere creating a myriad of secondary cosmic rays, releasing electrons that attach to molecules in the sky. The charged molecules of water, dust particles and sulfuric acid particles agglomerate together forming clouds. As soon as the molecules agglomerate, the electrons, in a type of catalytic reaction, move on to other molecules forming more ionic charged molecules that again agglomerate, enlarging the cloud.
At sea level, a person’s skull is penetrated twice a second by these secondary cosmic rays, called muons. As one goes up in altitude, the penetration rate-per-second increases.
What is a muon? At sea level, they make up 98 percent of the secondary cosmic rays.
They continue on their way into the water and rocks of the earth. They are called “heavy” electrons. They are like electrons in every respect except in mass, being two hundred times heavier. The muon is created during the decay of a pion, a nuclear force particle that is mass-produced in the early cosmic ray impacts with the atmosphere. The muon survives just two millionths of a second until it sheds two ghostly neutrinos and becomes an ordinary electron. When traveling near the speed of light, time slows down and the muon’s life is extended a hundred fold or more, enabling it to reach the lowest levels of the atmosphere where they influence the formation of low-level clouds that cool the planet.
What are cosmic rays? The ones we are concerned with were formed in the supernovae of exploding stars, not the feeble solar cosmic rays produced by explosions on the surface of our sun. Most cosmic rays are protons, nuclei of hydrogen atoms stripped of their electrons. Cosmic rays consist of other elements, roughly in proportion to their abundance in our galaxy: helium, carbon, oxygen, etc.
An excess of iron cosmic rays is indicative of their origin in a supernova. Cosmic rays are ordinary stuff in very high-speed motion. The most sluggish protons among them move at about 90 percent the speed of light. Their faster colleagues approach but never quite reach that speed limit. Instead, their energy of motion manifests itself in additional masses.
The sun’s influence extends far beyond the planets in a huge bubble called the heliosphere, blown by non-stop solar wind. Its irregular magnetic field repels many of the cosmic rays coming from our galaxy. The number of cosmic rays striking our atmosphere depends mainly on two variables, the strength of the heliosphere and the number of cosmic rays approaching the heliosphere.
At present, we are in a period when large quantities of cosmic rays are reaching our sun’s heliosphere. This period of increased cosmic ray activity is due to our relative closeness to one of the spiral arms of our galaxy. However, the Sun has been more active for the past century than in the past 1,000 to 8,000 years. If the Sun became quiescent, we could enter another ice age, as the heliosphere would shrink, allowing more cosmic rays strike the atmosphere.
Lower level clouds deflect back into space 50 percent of the insolation (solar radiation) striking them. Just a few percent more lower level clouds would depress earth’s temperatures several degrees, except in Antarctica, where cloud cover would raise temperatures. Increase the number of cosmic rays entering the earth’s
atmosphere and you increase the number of low-level clouds formed.
Patrick Hurley lives in Grass Valley.
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