Skip to comments.The Effects of Space Weather on Aviation
Posted on 10/26/2013 6:59:16 PM PDT by oxcart
The next time you step onto an airplane, consider the following: In any given year, the pilot of your aircraft probably absorbs as much radiation as a worker in a nuclear power plant.
And you are about to follow him wherever he goes.
The FAA classifies pilots as "occupational radiation workers." Flying high above Earth with little atmosphere to protect them, they can absorb significant doses of cosmic rays and solar radiation. During a typical polar flight from Chicago to Beijing, for instance, a pilot is exposed to the equivalent of two chest x-rays. Multiplied over the course of a career, this can cause problems such as increased risk of cancer and possibly cataracts.
Passengers have reason to be concerned, too.
"A 100,000 mile frequent flyer gets about 20 chest x-rays," points out Chris Mertens, a senior research scientist at NASA Langley Research Center. "This is true regardless of the latitude of the flights."
Its worth noting that even people on the ground absorb some radiation. Cosmic rays and their by-products are so powerful, they can reach all the way down to Earths surface, giving a person at sea level the equivalent of one chest x-ray every 10 days or so.
On a plane, however, dose rates increase 10-fold or more. The exposure depends on factors ranging from the altitude and latitude of the flight path (polar routes are irradiated most) to sunspot counts and solar activity (a powerful solar storm can boost radiation levels a hundredfold). To help airline companies safeguard passengers and personnel, NASA is developing an experimental tool to predict exposures in real time. Mertens is the PI of the system, called NAIRAS--short for "Nowcast of Atmosphere Ionizing Radiation for Aviation Safety."
Mertens notes that the number of flights over the poles has skyrocketed in recent years. Airlines prefer polar routes for international travel because they are shorter and have reduced head winds, creating fuel savings of tens of thousands of dollars per flight.
However, Earth's poles are where the radiation problem can be most severe. Our planet's magnetic field funnels cosmic rays and solar energetic particles over the very same latitudes where airlines want to fly. On a typical day when the sun is quiet, dose rates for international flights over the poles are 3 to 5 times higher than domestic flights closer to the equator.
If a flight controller wants to know the situation around the poles right now, NAIRAS can help. It is, essentially, an online global map of radiation dose rates for different flight paths and altitudes. Maps are produced in near real-time by a computer at Langley, which combines cutting-edge physics codes with realtime measurements of solar activity and cosmic rays.
We are still in an experimental phase, he says. The ultimate goal of the NAIRAS effort is to adopt a paradigm similar to terrestrial weather forecasting.
The value to the airlines is clear. The ability to fly over the poles can save $35,000 to $40,000 per flight in fuel costs alone. On the other hand, altering course to avoid a polar radiation storm can cost as much as $100,000. A forecasting tool like NAIRAS can help the airlines make the right decision.
Of even greater importance to Mertens is the human factor. Back in 2004, I went to a workshop on space weather and aviation. A pilot from American Airlines stood up to address the audience: Look, he said, we are classified as radiation workers, we are the most exposed than any other group, yet we know the least of all the groups. That was a turning point for me. I wanted to do something to help pilots better understand what they are flying into. And so NAIRAS was born.
Mertens and colleagues are about to publish a paper in the journal Space Weather comparing NAIRAS predictions to actual radiation measurements onboard airplanes. The results are encouraging, he says, but we still have work to do.
So we should stop flying and going outside. I hate these people.
Which pales to insignificance compared to the carton-of-cigarettes equivalent the pilot inhales during the stop in Beijing.
I’m uh gonna die from hiking and snowboarding at 10,000-15,000 feet.
Gamma sum uh that luvin
Please ping me to aviation and aerospace articles. Thank you.
Why oh why would a SCIENCE outfit like NASA report radiation exposure in “chest xrays”? Why not Sieverts or milliRems? Then the concerned reader could look up the relative risks.
“Chest Xray” dose depends on the machine, what the tech sets it to, what is ning imaged. It’s not a number like “five”.
Here is a neat calculator. I use 20 minutes for climbup and climbdown.
Actually staying inside does little good unless you live in a building with thick concrete roof and walls.
If you decide to move to a cave make sure it is a limestone cave because most other caves will have radioactive material in the walls.
No radon seepage from limestone?
Something not mentioned in the article is the type of radiation you get on a plane.
At altitude you can get very high energy neutrons, mesons, xrays, gammas, cosmic ray secondaries, and the interactions of all these things with the plane.
Not exactly the bremsstrahlung you get from an xray tube.
bremsstrahlung sounds like some kind of bizarre German sex act.
It IS! A particle SLAMS into a dense target and converts its kinetic energy into xray photons! Slam slam slam! In an xray tube it’s electrons pumped up with high voltage. in a plane it could be a proton humping into the aluminum skin.
Fortunately for many airline pilots they will spend several years on the bench at least once in their career on furlough.
Radon leakage requires that there be Uranium ore in the rock.
Limestone is sedimentary rock laid down in prehistoric oceans consisting of shells of microscopic animals.
” in a plane it could be a proton humping into the aluminum skin.”
Does the aluminum get pregnant?
“Ever really think about where honey comes from? “
I heard it wss bee barf!
The article has convinced me. I’m going to live at the bottom of an old ICBM silo and never see the sun again.
My original dentist once told me that the amount of radiation received by a dental X-ray wasn’t much — equal to the amount I’d get walking around in the Sun for a year. :’) Thanks oxcart.
I’m sure there studies of the long-term affects on pilots but what do they show?
Cancer rates? Cataracts? Shorter life spans? Genetic mutations in offspring?
lol spew coffee funny!
Ooooh! Scary picture!
If shown to scale and going by the size of the sun as shown, earth wouldn’t even be in the same room with you. Somewhere down the street...
In regards to long term effects on pilots, my chief pilot has over 24,000 hours. He has a small spot of cancer on his left cheek. I find that consistent with him sitting in the left seat, with the left side of his face exposed to the left window.
i go up as often as I can.
Tomorrow I’ll fly from fl37 to either Sebring or Venice Florida for breakfast then back and will get up as high as I can, look around at GODS earth then come back to land. May do a touch and go at Indiantown and or Pahokee and if it is the equilavent of a chest x-ray, well it is worth it.
Actually afaik no adverse effects have been clearly identified.
“climbdown ?! lol spew coffee funny!”
They changed the gui a little, it actually once said climbout and climbdown. Wording is different now.
After racing Motocross, Go-carts, cars and jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, a few cosmic rays really doesn’t matter. I’m just grateful to be alive.