Great. Just… great! Another thing to worry about.

As if planet killing asteroids and civilization killing CMEs weren’t bad enough, now we get to think about…

“killer electrons”.

At SpaceWeather:

A NEW SOURCE OF SPACE RADIATION: Astronauts are surrounded by danger: hard vacuum, solar flares, cosmic rays. Researchers from UCLA have just added a new item to the list. Earth itself.

“A natural particle accelerator only 40,000 miles above Earth’s surface is producing ‘killer electrons’ [not to be confused with the Oh-My-God! Particle.] moving close to the speed of light,” says Terry Liu, a newly-minted PhD who studied the phenomenon as part of his thesis with UCLA Prof. Vassilis Angelopoulos.

This means that astronauts leaving Earth for Mars could be peppered by radiation coming at them from behind–from the direction of their own home planet.

NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft ran across the particles in 2008 not far from the place where the solar wind slams into Earth’s magnetic field. Researchers have long known that shock waves at that location could accelerate particles to high energies–but not this high. The particles coming out of the Earth-solar wind interface have energies up to 100,000 electron volts, ten times greater than previously expected.  [An electronvolt (eV) is the amount of kinetic energy gained or lost by a single electron accelerating from rest through an electric potential difference of one volt in vacuum, and a unit of energy equal to exactly 1.602176634×10?19 joules (J) in SI units. I hope that helps. What can these killer electrons do? 1.1 eV is the the energy EG required to break a covalent bond in silicon. ]

How is this possible? Liu found the answer by combining THEMIS data with computer simulations of the sun-Earth interface. When the solar wind meets Earth, it forms a shock wave around Earth’s magnetic field, shaped like the bow waves that form ahead of a boat moving through water. Within this “bow shock” immense stores of energy can be abruptly released akin to the sonic boom of an airplane.

Liu found that some electrons are shocked not just once, but twice or more, undergoing mirror-like reflections within the bow shock that build energy to unexpected levels. Most of the boosted particles shoot back into space away from Earth.

“Similar particles have been detected near Saturn, suggesting that the process is at work there as well,” says Liu. “Indeed,” adds Angelopoulos, “this type of particle acceleration could be happening throughout the cosmos–from supernovas to solar storms–wherever a supersonic wind hits a barrier.”

Meanwhile, back home, Earth-orbiting satellites and departing astronauts have a new source of radiation to contend with. It’s right over their shoulder.

Read the original research at Science Advances.

And there’s a graphic, which explains it all.

As I scan this and see “killer electrons” and “relativistic electrons”, I strain to make a connection to the catholic Left and make some pithy comments.  But, I’m just not up to it today.

Since we are dealing with killers, perhaps we should get Tracer Bullet on the case.

Meanwhile, enjoy the “Tears of St. Lawrence”, underway. As well as a nice conjunction of the waxing gibbous Moon with Jupiter near the red giant star Antares of Scorpius: closest approach on Friday 9 August, with Jupiter and the Moon just a few degrees apart. Catch them at twilight.

And for you hams… the sun is blank.  Zero sun spots.  147 days of 0 this year so far.

“Antares of Scorpius”?  Where’s Tracer when you need him?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Dad of Six says:

    Moral of the story- “Go to Confession!”

  2. acardnal says:

    Perhaps one of these is needed: HERE

  3. acardnal:

    And excellent idea. Readers should immediately order some for themselves and loved ones.

  4. Semper Gumby says:

    acardnal: Brilliant. Per Fr. Z, everyone should own several of those, don’t forget a black one for formal wear.

    In a pinch, this ought to do the trick:

    And when fending off hordes of killer electrons don’t forget to hydrate:

  5. iamlucky13 says:

    I’m glad Spaceweather took the time to link to the research paper. Had they not, there would have been no clue the article was supposed to be related to that specific research.

    I hope Dr. Liu gets a chance to read the Spaceweather article and share it with his colleagues. They’ll all get a really good laugh out of it.

    I think the main takeaway, though, is these killer electrons aren’t bad. They are just poorly understood, and acting out against a magnetosphere that refused to accept them as they are. We just need to be more relativistic and welcome them instead responding with such an isolationist foreshock transient.

  6. iamlucky13 says: these killer electrons aren’t bad. They are just poorly understood

    I’m kicking myself for not having seen that from the start! I guess my pastoral sensibilities are macro and not micro.

    Yes, according to Amoris laetitia, we should try to accompany these misunderstood electrons, though at those speeds we had better get our track shoes on.

    And, somewhere in here there’s a song lurking…. something from West Side Story?

    We ain’t no delinquents
    We’re misunderstood
    Deep down inside us there is good!

  7. Dismas says:

    Since this is well outside of geosynchronous orbit, these electrons only become a problem for crossing into lunar orbit or further. Of course this is exactly why newer ships meant to travel to Mars will have “storm cellars” or lithium salt shielding. (note: never put lead on the outside, or you’ll cook your astronauts with X-rays.

  8. Semper Gumby says:

    Fr. Z: So…Friday evening me and the boys were at Big Ernie’s Fortress of Beef and Pork tucking into 72 oz. steaks. I remarked to Tracer, who had already moved on to a hearty slice of Bacon and Butter Pie, that something was afoot with Antares of Scorpius.

    Well…apparently Tracer heard Antares Scorpion. Which is a legendary ancient Egyptian gold and emerald occult statue that brought ill-fortune to the Seventh Crusade.

    So, after Holy Mass this morning I got a telegram. Tracer is currently on a boat cruising up the Nile to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. He is enjoying the view and a volume of GK Chesterton from a deck chair, resplendent in a crisp linen suit and sun helmet.

    Ok, why not. If one wishes to search and destroy ancient evil statues then the Valley of the Kings is as good a place as any.

    Hmm…maybe I ought to send a telegram to the scholars at Luxor’s Chicago House. No doubt Tracer will step smartly off the boat, pat a local urchin on the head, and make a beeline for that establishment of higher learning (they have ceiling fans).

    The scholars should be prepared for interminable velvety-smooth saxophone solos and wisps of cigarette smoke drifting like wraiths through the desert air.

    Fortunately, Tracer equipped himself well for his journey with a St. Benedict Medal and Holy Water.

    Hmm…knowing Tracer he might decide to visit Luxor’s bazaar, have a glass of mint tea with ol’ Sallah, and hire his camel train to have a go at finding the Lost Oasis. Perhaps Magnum Bullet should be dispatched to assist Tracer. With a flamethrower. Ya’ know, mummies.

  9. Semper Gumby says: You can bet those hookahs ain’t bubbling Holy Water.

    With a flamethrower. Ya’ know, mummies.

    The only problem with the flamethrower is figuring out where to attach the bayonet!

    G’night, Chesty.

  10. GregB says:

    Semper Gumby wrote:
    Hmm…maybe I ought to send a telegram to the scholars at Luxor’s Chicago House….
    …With a flamethrower. Ya’ know, mummies.
    I wonder if you might want to also contact the Bembridge Scholars? One good thing about a flamethrower is that hopefully you won’t end up with a gooey mummy.

  11. Semper Gumby says:

    GregB: Well done Sir. A good book on the Valley of the Kings is archaeologist Kent Weeks’ The Lost Tomb (“KV 5”- the tombs of the sons of Ramses II, probably the Pharoah of the Exodus). Kent Weeks used hot-air balloons to map the Theban Necropolis.

    There is also a chapter on the 1997 Islamist terrorist attack at Deir alBahari next to the Valley of the Kings. Kent Weeks’ Muslim workers guided everyone (I think Prof. Weeks’ wife Susan, an artist, was there that day working as an art preservationist inside the tombs, the book has some of her superb watercolors) including tourists back into the tombs to avoid the gunfire. If I recall the story, the foreman, a big Muslim man, stationed himself at the entrance to the tomb and stated he would strangle any terrorist who attempted to enter.

    Excellent Chesty Puller quote Fr. Z. For hookah water Tracer recommends gin and tonic.

    Here are several Bible verses about the desert:

    Proverbs 21:19

    Psalm 63:2

    Isaiah 35:1-2

    Isaiah 58:11-12

  12. Semper Gumby says:

    GregB wrote: “…gooey mummy.”

    I’ve been informed that what the world really needs is a new ice cream flavor: Gooey Mummy. Vanilla ice cream, warm caramel and chocolate syrups, lemon custard colored green, and partly-melted gummy bears.

    Verily, this ice cream is an abomination unto the Lord.

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