Saturday, December 24, 2011

High energy particles in the earth

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Cosmic rays are not actually part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but are actually particles that have high electron volt values and travel at speeds almost the same as light. Not a lot is known about the origins of high-energy particles, but we do know some information and some estimated values.

There are really three main questions I want answered on this topic. “What are high energy particles and where do they come from? Why are we on Earth not affected by these particles when they contain so much energy? and, what are some other high energy particles in our knowledge other than cosmic rays?”. There is a huge amount of information available on high-energy particles with some of it very hard to understand without a good background of physics on the topic.

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I will be discussing the ideas of electromagnetic rays and how it is related to high-energy particles and the physics behind it. I will talk about high-energy particles, what they are and where they are from and the physics involved in it. I will relate the importance of the Earth’s magnetosphere and how that is connected t physics. Finally, I will explain some other energetic physics from the sun, like the solar winds and an event that changed the Earth’s radiation belt.


Internet sites

· The exploration of the Earth’s Magnetosphere,

This site provided information on the Earth’s Magnetosphere, high-energy particles and a basic knowledge of the aspects of the universe.

· Universe Today,

This site provided me with basic knowledge and current events of the space near Earth, as well as cosmic rays.

Text Books

· PES Physics essentials text book

This text gave me the fundamentals of light, electromagnetic rays, electric fields and magnetic fields.

· Britannica

This gave me general information on cosmic rays and other space phenomena, which was useful for a basic understanding of how we have progressed.


Many people today are just learning that cosmic rays are not part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Even in the textbook, they still give information about cosmic rays on the electromagnetic spectrum. They state that it has a frequency greater than 10 and a wavelength of less than x 10-15.


Energy is measured in electron volts (ev). It is the energy gained by an electron moving through a voltage difference of one volt. For example In a television, electrons are accelerated by approximately 0, 000 volts, so therefore have approximately 0, 000 ev of energy. It is a very simple term and a very accurate term, so there is often a need to have bigger units 1000 ev = 1 kev(kilo electron volt) 1, 000, 000= 1 Mev (mega electron volt) 1, 000 000 000= 1 Gev (giga electron volt).

Some energy readings from the atoms around us

· 0.0 ev � the energy of an oxygen or nitrogen atom in the air, it moves faster than a speeding bullet, but is still rather low on the scale of energies

· 0.5 ev � an atom or molecule at the temperature of the sun’s surface

· 40, 000 ev � energy for an atom to penetrate the thin wall of a Gieger counter

· 1.4 Mev � energy of electrons from radioactive potassium, a major source of the earth’s internal heat

· 10-100Mev � proton energies in the inner radiation belt

· 1-100, 000, 000, 000 Gev � energies among cosmic rays, but as their energies go up, their densities go down and are quite rare.

There is a theory of relativity, in which no particle with a mass can move with a velocity greater or equalling that of light (00 000 000 m/s). Particles with high energies can become close to the speed of light but can never match it. Also, the energy required reaching a speed, saying 0.0 the speed of light is far less than the energy required to take it from 0.0 to 0. times the speed of light, and therefore there are not many particles that can gain that amount of energy and velocity. This is because the energy needed to speed up a mass is not proportional to the speed of the mass.


The Earth is a large magnet. Magnetic fields only affect magnetic or electrically charged materials, molecules or atoms. Most materials on this planet are electrically neutral and our lifestyles do not involve anything that is affected by the Earth’s magnetic field. To be precise, we actually need a compass to detect these fields.

However, 100 km and more above the surface of the earth the environment is somewhat different. X-rays and ultra-violet rays from the sun cause negatively charged electrons to be separated from their atoms by intense energy in the form of heat. The remaining atoms are positively charged ions. These ion fragments can be trapped and directed by the Earth’s magnetic field, and when given enough energy, can reach high speeds and allow electric currents and radio waves to form. The electrons and ions follow magnetic field lines.

The field lines of Earth are not far, but are confined inside a cavity. This cavity is called the magnetosphere of Earth. The free ions and electrons travel along these field lines, which determine almost all of their behaviour. The area outside of the Earth’s magnetosphere is dominated by the Sun and solar winds emitted by the sun.

Magnetospheres are high-energy environments where speed of particles commonly amount to one tenth the speed of light. Also, our magnetosphere protects us from most radiation and violent forces present in our solar system for example; solar winds.

Magnetic fields and their affects on ions and electrons are all part of physics.


Earth is constantly bombarded by high-energy particles from distant sources in space, like cosmic ray ions. The magnetosphere is not strong enough to direct and control high-energy particles like cosmic ray ions. Cosmic ray ions have between 1 Gev to 100 000 000 000 Gev of energy. The density of the cosmic rays are not very high and therefore do not produce much radiation, about the same amount of light rays from the sun. It seems that in our galaxy it gives us as much energy to exotic particles that it gives to light energy.

On the ground, we don’t encounter cosmic rays, but we do encounter fragments from gas particles hit by cosmic rays made on sensitive photographic plates in the upper levels. Scientists have discovered that cosmic rays are made up of hydrogen and helium ions. Also iron, carbon and oxygen ions have been found. So these are ordinary particles that have gone under some very unusual processes to gain high amounts of energy.


In addition to sunlight, our sun also sends out solar winds. A flow of very hot and very rare gasses blown out with enough energy to send it away at over 400 m/s. Our magnetosphere stops these gasses because they are so hot. Scientists have wondered wether spacecraft would be able to tackle these winds. That’s where physics comes in handy to work out thicknesses for protective panels and so on. This relates directly to the topic because solar winds have energy in the form of radiation, and velocity. These winds come as close as 66, 000 km of the Earth.


We can now conclude that cosmic rays are, high-energy ions of hydrogen travelling at near light speeds. We know about the Earth’s defences such as its atmosphere and magnetosphere. We now also now a bit more about other related physics ideas involving our solar system and universe.

Physics will play an important role in helping us understand more about events that take place around us. High energies, high speeds, low masses, light, energy transfers, radiation, explosions, collisions, electric fields, magnetic fields and the electromagnetic spectrum have all been mentioned in this essay, which all have to do with PHYSICS.

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