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A Pilot's Risk

A Pilot’s Risk

Credit: Jerine Lay
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/80315254@N00/2598184622
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Besides the possibility of crashing, airline pilots who spend large amounts of time at 30,000 feet, need to worry about radiation exposure. Cancer and cataracts can result from too much radiation over a career.

Why It Matters

Credit: NASA/JPL
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PIA16938-RadiationSources-InterplanetarySpace.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Earth is protected from high energy particles from outside our galaxy and from our sun by its magnetic field [Figure2]

  • Cosmic rays mostly originate outside the solar system. They are not rays, but very high energy particles.
  • Some cosmic rays make it to Earth’s surface, but life on Earth is mostly protected by our magnetic field and atmosphere.
  • People who spend a lot of time in the stratosphere at 30,000 to 45,000 feet (9 to 14 km) are exposed to many more of these high energy particles than those who do not venture so high in the atmosphere.

Explore More

With the link below, learn more about exposure to cosmic radiation. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Why does a person in an airplane receive about 10 times more cosmic radiation than someone on the surface?
  2. What does a person’s exposure to cosmic rays in an airplane depend on?
  3. Why might polar routes expose passengers to more cosmic rays than a route closer to the equator?
  4. What solar system events increase the amount of dangerous particles that head toward Earth?
  5. What is the purpose of the NAIRAS tool?
  6. What factors go into choosing a route for an international flight, say between San Francisco and Paris?

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