Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The missing link between exploding stars, clouds, and climate on Earth

20.12.2017

A breakthrough in the understanding of how cosmic rays from supernovae can influence Earth's cloud cover and thereby climate is published today in the journal Nature Communications

The study reveals how atmospheric ions, produced by the energetic cosmic rays raining down through the atmosphere, helps the growth and formation of cloud condensation nuclei - the seeds necessary for forming clouds in the atmosphere. When the ionization in the atmosphere changes, the number of cloud condensation nuclei changes affecting the properties of clouds.


Cosmic rays interacting with the Earth's atmosphere producing ions that helps turn small aerosols into cloud condensation nuclei -- seeds on which liquid water droplets form to make clouds. A proton with energy of 100 GeV interact at the top of the atmosphere and produces a cascade of secondary particles who ionize molecules when traveling through the air. One 100 GeV proton hits every m2 at the top of the atmosphere every second.

Credit: Illustration: H. Svensmark/DTU

More cloud condensation nuclei mean more clouds and a colder climate, and vice versa. Since clouds are essential for the amount of Solar energy reaching the surface of Earth the implications can be significant for our understanding of why climate has varied in the past and also for future climate changes.

Cloud condensation nuclei can be formed by the growth of small molecular clusters called aerosols. It has until now been assumed that additional small aerosols would not grow and become cloud condensation nuclei, since no mechanism was known to achieve this.

The new results reveal, both theoretically and experimentally, how interactions between ions and aerosols can accelerate the growth by adding material to the small aerosols and thereby help them survive to become cloud condensation nuclei.

It gives a physical foundation to the large body of empirical evidence showing that Solar activity plays a role in variations in Earth's climate. For example, the Medieval Warm Period around year 1000 AD and the cold period in the Little Ice Age 1300-1900 AD both fits with changes in Solar activity.

"Finally we have the last piece of the puzzle explaining how particles from space affect climate on Earth. It gives an understanding of how changes caused by Solar activity or by super nova activity can change climate." says Henrik Svensmark, from DTU Space at the Technical University of Denmark, lead author of the study. Co-authors are senior researcher Martin Bødker Enghoff (DTU Space), Professor Nir Shaviv (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and Jacob Svensmark, (University of Copenhagen).

The new study

The fundamental new idea in the study is to include a contribution to growth of aerosols by the mass of the ions. Although the ions are not the most numerous constituents in the atmosphere the electro-magnetic interactions between ions and aerosols compensate for the scarcity and make fusion between ions and aerosols much more likely. Even at low ionization levels about 5% of the growth rate of aerosols is due to ions. In the case of a nearby super nova the effect can be more than 50% of the growth rate, which will have an impact on the clouds and the Earth's temperature.

To achieve the results a theoretical description of the interactions between ions and aerosols was formulated along with an expression for the growth rate of the aerosols. The ideas were then tested experimentally in a large cloud chamber. Due to experimental constraints caused by the presence of chamber walls, the change in growth rate that had to be measured was of the order 1%, which poses a high demand on stability during the experiments, and experiments were repeated up to 100 times in order to obtain a good signal relative to unwanted fluctuations. Data was taken over a period of 2 years with total 3100 hours of data sampling. The results of the experiments agreed with the theoretical predictions.

The hypothesis in a nutshell

  • Cosmic rays, high-energy particles raining down from exploded stars, knock electrons out of air molecules. This produces ions, that is, positive and negative molecules in the atmosphere.
  • The ions help aerosols - clusters of mainly sulphuric acid and water molecules - to form and become stable against evaporation. This process is called nucleation. The small aerosols need to grow nearly a million times in mass in order to have an effect on clouds.
  • The second role of ions is that they accelerate the growth of the small aerosols into cloud condensation nuclei - seeds on which liquid water droplets form to make clouds. The more ions the more aerosols become cloud condensation nuclei. It is this second property of ions which is the new result published in Nature Communications.
  • Low clouds made with liquid water droplets cool the Earth's surface.
  • Variations in the Sun's magnetic activity alter the influx of cosmic rays to the Earth.
  • When the Sun is lazy, magnetically speaking, there are more cosmic rays and more low clouds, and the world is cooler.
  • When the Sun is active fewer cosmic rays reach the Earth and, with fewer low clouds, the world warms up.

The implications of the study suggests that the mechanism can have affected:

  • The climate changes observed during the 20th century
  • The coolings and warmings of around 2oC that have occurred repeatedly over the past 10,000 years, as the Sun's activity and the cosmic ray influx have varied.
  • The much larger variations of up to 10oC occuring as the Sun and Earth travel through the Galaxy visiting regions with varying numbers of exploding stars.

Media Contact

Henrik Svensmark
hsv@space.dtu.dk
45-22-37-07-11

 @DTUtweet

http://www.dtu.dk 

Henrik Svensmark | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Magnetic nano-imaging on a table top
20.04.2018 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

nachricht New record on squeezing light to one atom: Atomic Lego guides light below one nanometer
20.04.2018 | ICFO-The Institute of Photonic Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Magnetic nano-imaging on a table top

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Start of work for the world's largest electric truck

20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research

Atoms may hum a tune from grand cosmic symphony

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>