Cosmic raise in cloud

Jan 19, 2006

New evidence that events in outer space affect the weather and climate of Earth has been revealed in a study by meteorologists at the University of Reading published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society on Wednesday 18 January.

In their paper ‘Empirical evidence for a non-linear effect of galactic cosmic rays on clouds’, Drs Giles Harrison and David Stephenson suggest that cosmic rays have a significant effect on the Earth’s lower atmosphere – particularly on levels of cloudiness.

The Reading meteorologists discovered that the chance of an overcast day decreases by 20% on days with low cosmic ray fluxes. The effect is strongest when low cosmic ray fluxes occur – this is often associated with solar flares, but may also result from changes outside the solar system.

“Back in 1959, Edward Ney suggested that variations in cosmic rays, which are charged particles mostly originating outside the solar system, could affect our weather,” said Dr Harrison. “This research now provides strong evidence supporting Ney’s suggestion, which effectively links atmospheric and space science.”

“As well as the influence of weather, our evidence shows a small yet statistically significant effect of cosmic rays on daily cloudiness. This suggests that cosmic rays are an additional external source of climate variability that should be considered when modelling past and future climate.”

To detect changes in the atmosphere from cosmic rays, Harrison and Stephenson used solar radiation measurements made by meteorological stations. They conducted a careful analysis of the UK archives of daily solar radiation observations from 1951-2004 and compared them with neutron counter cosmic ray measurements taken at Climax, Colorado, between 1951 and 2000.

In 1927, the British physicist C.T.R. Wilson received the Nobel Prize for the cloud chamber, which he invented to simulate atmospheric cloud processes. The cloud chamber makes cosmic rays visible by condensing water droplets on ions produced by the cosmic rays. Wilson developed the cloud chamber in the 1890s to simulate atmospheric cloud production processes. He initially thought that ions provided all the nuclei in the atmosphere for cloud formation, but subsequently discovered that clouds formed on uncharged particles too. The mechanism suggested by Harrison and Stephenson to explain the effect of cosmic rays on clouds found is different to Wilson's, and depends on the particles formed by ions, rather than the action of the ions themselves. This is an important distinction, as the cloud chamber does not reproduce real atmospheric conditions. Wilson's work was also published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Cosmic rays were discovered by Viktor Hess, following a high altitude balloon flight in August 1912. Hess received the Nobel prize for the discovery in 1936.

Source: University of Reading

Explore further: Orion rocks: Pebble-size particles may jump-start planet formation

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

CLOUD sees through the haze

Jun 11, 2014

The CLOUD (Cosmic Leaving OUtdoor Droplets) experiment at CERN, which is studying whether cosmic rays have a climatically significant effect on aerosols and clouds, is also tackling one of the most challenging ...

Young sun's violent history solves meteorite mystery

Jul 01, 2014

(Phys.org) —Astronomers using ESA's Herschel space observatory to probe the turbulent beginnings of a Sun-like star have found evidence of mighty stellar winds that could solve a puzzling meteorite mystery ...

New molecules around old stars

Jun 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Using ESA's Herschel space observatory, astronomers have discovered that a molecule vital for creating water exists in the burning embers of dying Sun-like stars.

XMM-Newton reveals cosmic collision in the Bullet Group

Jun 09, 2014

(Phys.org) —Despite the large distances between them, galaxies rarely exist in isolation. They are mostly found in large assemblies known as groups and clusters. Groups are the smallest gatherings, containing ...

Recommended for you

Witnessing the early growth of a giant

3 hours ago

Astronomers have uncovered for the first time the earliest stages of a massive galaxy forming in the young Universe. The discovery was made possible through combining observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble ...

Light of life

6 hours ago

A fluorescent microscopic view of cells from a type of bone cancer, being studied for a future trip to deep space – aiming to sharpen our understanding of the hazardous radiation prevailing out there.

User comments : 0