Earth is constantly being bombarded by radiation from our universe, including from the sun. The Earth’s magnetic field deflects much of this radiation, protecting us from harmful effects. However, at the North and South poles, Earth’s magnetic field no longer provides shielding, and instead accelerates radiation into the Earth’s atmosphere. You may have seen the result of electrons colliding with our atmosphere in the form of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights)!
While people on the ground have atmospheric protection, those at higher altitudes are at greater risk of radiation exposure. For example, airline pilots and crew are particularly vulnerable from constant exposure to higher levels of radiation, especially when they fly over or near magnetic poles!
Your challenge is to visualize radiation exposure for the flight crew and passengers of a polar or near-polar flight. Choose an historical, current, or a hypothetical flight path that includes flying over or near one of the magnetic poles. Calculate and visualize the radiation exposure for the people on that flight based on auroral conditions at the time of the flight.
- Remember that Earth’s magnetic poles are not the same as Earth’s geographic poles!
- How can solar phenomena like solar storms affect radiation exposure?
- How do atmospheric conditions affect radiation exposure for the flight crew and passengers? Do these conditions differ at the magnetic North and magnetic South poles, thereby affecting the amount of radiation exposure?
- How can you explain the exposure-related risks in easy-to-understand ways?