Cosmic rays are high energy charged particles, originating in outer space, that travel at nearly the speed of light and strike the Earth from all directions. The term "cosmic rays" usually refers to galactic cosmic rays, which originate in sources outside the solar system, distributed throughout our Milky Way galaxy. However, this term has also come to include other classes of energetic particles in space, including nuclei and electrons accelerated in association with energetic events on the Sun (called solar energetic particles), and particles accelerated in interplanetary space. Co...
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...ojector illuminates the tracks from the side to make them visible briefly.
Fortunately, humans and animals on the surface of the Earth are largely protected by the Earth's atmosphere and by the Earth's magnetic field, which deflects low-energy cosmic rays away except over the polar regions. Some cosmic radiation does reach the surface of the Earth, and it is possible that people living at very high altitudes have a slightly higher risk of cancer because of this. Cosmic rays can seriously damage DNA. If DNA damage cannot be repaired by the cell, the cell could die. If the damage is copied into more cells, then a mutation could occur. Exposure to large amounts of cosmic rays could increase the risks not only for cancer, but cataracts and neurological disorders. Long term exposure to cosmic rays, or short intense bursts, could affect the evolution of life on Earth.
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