Solar flares may put fliers at risk, DGCA told

Solar flares may put fliers at risk, DGCA told

Hollywood blockbuster “2012,” an “end of days” drama released in 2009, had shown how neutrinos from solar flares would adversely affect the earth and ultimately lead to a major shift in polar icecaps.

A group of space physicists from Kolkata has raised alarm over heightened solar activities in the last few months and have warned that solar flares could have a significant impact on frequent fliers.

The Kolkata-based Indian Centre for Space Physics (ICSP), a government-aided autonomous institute, which partners with the Indian Space Research organisation, the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research and the US space organisation, Nasa, has intimated the director -general of civil aviation (DGCA) in New Delhi on June 29, asking the Central government body to take a note of it.

In a letter addressed to DGCA Arun Mishra, ICSP secretary and in-charge of academic affairs, Sandip Kumar Chakrabarti, pointed out that while the cycle of solar activities take place every 11 years, this year activities have been heightened since April. Radiation from solar flares has reached up to 12 to 14 km into the earth’s atmosphere, a phenomenon that has not been recorded earlier.

The ICSP has warned that since commercial airlines fly in that zone, crew and passengers may be adversely affected, if caught in radiation from solar flares. “Pilots and crew of aircraft are anyway exposed to higher chances of cancer because they spend a lot of time in the Ionosphere, which is at the receiving end of a number of harmful rays from space. Now, these crew members must also be getting exposed to solar activities,” Chakrabarti told Deccan Herald.

He recently presented a paper on this at the European Space Agency conference on
“European Balloon and Rocket Programme and Related Research” in Switzerland in June and is waiting to see his findings in a  leading scientific journal in its September issue. Chakrabarti explained that increase in solar activities every year, culminating in heightened solar flares every 11 years, is a natural process.

“What is interesting is even when we sent instrument-laden balloons into the atmosphere in May 2012 to record solar flares and other rays, the readings were nothing compared to what we recorded in May this year,” he said.

“This note is to draw your attention. Clearly, there are two components: One from solar flare, which is of high energy, and the other is from cosmic rays (lower energy photons). As space scientists we cannot at this stage suggest or recommend anything as to what you could do, except to draw your kind attention that extra care must be taken to protect passengers and the crew during solar active years, and especially during strong solar flares, as such extra dose could be harmful to any biological system,” Chakrabarti wrote to the DGCA.

He pointed out that “even for a moderate solar activity (C4 class flare), the hard X-rays of 60-70 kilo electron volt energy penetrates deeply into the atmosphere to a height of 7-8 kilometres. Most certainly, the energy flux is comparable to that of the cosmic rays that we detect.” Chakrabarti’s immediate concern, however, is that no action might be taken, under pressure from private aircraft operators, who are likely to face huge losses if the matter gets known among the common public.

What is a solar flare?

 A sudden eruption of magnetic energy released on or near the surface of the sun, usually accompanied by bursts of electromagnetic radiation and particles. Ultraviolet and x-ray radiation from solar flares often generate electromagnetic disturbances in the earth’s atmosphere, including causing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wind storms.

The effect

Scientists have found direct connection between solar flares and human physiology, affecting the central nervous system, all brain activity, including equilibrium, along with human behaviour and all psycho-physiological response. Solar flares can also cause nervousness, anxiety, worries, jitteriness, dizziness, shakes, sudden bouts of irritation, lethargy, exhaustion, nausea, short term memory problems and heart palpitation, besides prolonged headaches.

Comments (+)