Cosmic Ray Flux and Global Cooling: the implications are upon us

[Article originally published on on April 30, 2021]

GALACTIC Cosmic Rays are a mixture of high-energy photons and sub-atomic particles accelerated toward Earth by supernova explosions and other violent events in the cosmos; SOLAR Cosmic Rays are effectively the same, only their source is the Sun. and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been launching cosmic ray balloons almost weekly since March 2015–before the pandemic threw a spanner in.

The team’s published results reveal that atmospheric radiation reached record highs just as solar activity hit a new space age low — the correlation is clear for all to see, with additional proxy data revealing it has been the case for time-immemorial.

During solar minimums –the low point of the 11 year solar cycle– the Sun’s magnetic field weakens and the outward pressure of the solar wind decreases. This allows more cosmic rays (CRs) to penetrate the inner solar system, including our planet’s atmosphere:

Cosmic Rays correlating with Sunspots.

Radiation levels have been increasing almost non-stop since the Earth to Sky Calculus monitoring program began, with the latest flights in Dec, 2019 (fig.1) and early-2020 (fig.2) registering new all-time highs:

(Fig.2) — The newest data from Abisko, Sweden show the increase is not limited to the stratosphere. It is also happening at aviation altitudes with a 3-year increase of ~12% even below 40,000 ft. 

If this is indeed a Grand Solar Minimum we’re headed into then cosmic rays should be trending off the charts, and that is exactly what we’re seeing:

Researchers at the Sodankyla Geophysical Observatory have been monitoring cosmic rays since 1964.

When CRs hit Earth’s atmosphere they produce a spray of secondary particles that rain down on Earth’s surface (visualized in the below image). Among these particles are neutrons. Detectors, such as those in Oulu, count these neutrons as a proxy for cosmic rays.

Schematic diagram of a cosmic ray air shower. This ‘secondary spray’ is also what the Earth to Sky Calculus balloons measure.

Below is another look at the correlation between CRs and the Sun.

The top panel demonstrates the natural waxing and waning of cosmic rays with the 11-year solar cycle. It shows that during Solar Maximum cosmic rays are weak, and, conversely, during Solar Minimum they are strong.


Cosmic rays are bad–and they’re going to get worse. That’s the conclusion of a 2020 study entitled “Galactic Cosmic Radiation in Interplanetary Space Through a Modern Secular Minimum.”

The type of radiation produced by cosmic rays is the same used in medical X-ray machines and airport security scanners. This radiation has increased by more than 20% in the stratosphere, according to data.

Cosmic rays penetrate commercial jets, delivering whole-body dosages equal to one or more dental X-rays even on regular flights across the USA. Cosmic rays pose an even greater hazard to astronauts, as you would expect. They can also alter the electro-chemistry of Earth’s upper atmosphere, sparking lightning.

“During the next solar cycle, we could see cosmic ray dose rates increase by as much as 75%,” said lead author Fatemeh Rahmanifard of the University of New Hampshire’s Space Science Center. “This will limit the amount of time astronauts can work safely in interplanetary space.”

No amount of spacecraft shielding can stop the most energetic cosmic rays, leaving astronauts exposed whenever they leave the Earth-Moon system. Back in the 1990s, astronauts could travel through space for as much as 1000 days before they hit NASA safety limits on radiation exposure. Not anymore. According to the new research, cosmic rays will limit trips to as little as 290 days for 45-year old male astronauts, and 204 days for females (men and women have different limits because of unequal dangers to reproductive organs).

However, far more crucial than limiting jollies into space –and ending fantasies of colonizing Mars– cosmic rays hitting Earth’s atmosphere have been found to seed clouds (Svensmark et al), with cloud cover playing the most important role in our planet’s short-term climate change.

“Clouds are the Earth’s sunshade,” writes Dr. Roy Spencer, “and if cloud cover changes for any reason, you have global warming — or global cooling.”

And so it stands, while an overturning of ocean currents, a reduction in TSI, an increase in ice/snow albedo, or a VEI 6+ volcanic eruption are all capable of reducing Earth’s terrestrial temperature, all that is actually required is an uptick in CRs (check) and a corresponding increase in cloud cover (check).

The upshot of the historically weak solar minimum of cycle 24 –the Sun’s deepest of the past 100+ years (NASA)– combined with the further waning observed during cycle 25, and the forecast intensification into 26 (and beyond), will be a cooling of the planet.

We’re already seeing it. According to the satellites, the global average temperature is some 0.43C off its early-2016 high, and dropping…

The COLD TIMES are returning, the mid-latitudes are REFREEZING in line with historically low solar activitycloud-nucleating Cosmic Rays, and a meridional jet stream flow (among many other forcings, including the impending release of the Beaufort Gyre).

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