MadSci Network: Earth Sciences

Re: At a magnetic pole, are you more likely to be exposed to solar radiation?

Date: Wed Apr 17 16:18:47 2002
Posted By: Dietmar Hildebrand, Post-doc/Fellow, Radiation Biophysics, Scientific Services
Area of science: Earth Sciences
ID: 1016658855.Es

Indeed, the fusion reactor (the sun) which supplies us with a wide spectrum of electromagnetic waves also emits a particle spectrum ranging from neutrinos up to stripped atomic nuclei. A magnetic field will bend the path of any electrically charged particle traversing it (remember the right hand rule?) If you hold your thumb in the direction of the vector of a magnetic field an electron will bend its path in the direction of the (relaxed) fingers of your hand (= left). The radius of the curvature of the path depends on the momentum of the charged particle and its mass.

So, near the equator where the magnetic field vector is horizontal, the particles will swing back into space (unless they have enough energy to come so close that they will interact with our atmosphere and fragment or become "thermalized"). At the magnetic poles their path is aligned with the magnetic vector so they fly straight on at the earth. "Near" the magnetic poles their path is bend into a spiral. When large amounts of particles get down enough into our atmosphere near the poles, we see their interaction as secondary electromagnetic radiation known as "aurora borealis" (northern lights) and "aurora australis" (southern lights). So much about the particle radiation.

However, there is also another effect: mankind was stupid enough to damage the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which acted as a UV filter for the short wavelength end of the UV spectrum (UV-B and UV-C), by polluting the atmosphere with fluorocarbon gases, which cause a catalytical decay of ozone. The ozone layer near the poles have become so thin that we talk about the "ozone hole", which already as caused a significant increase in skin cancer in Australia.

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