Frequent Flyers May Soon Be Exposed to Increased Radiation

12 May 2017

Image credit: PexelsImage credit: PexelsRacking up those frequent flyer miles? Here is something else you may rack up in the next few years if you are a frequent flyer: increased risk exposure to radiation particles from space due to the decreasing activity of the sun.

According to University of Colorado Boulder Professor Delores Knipp, too much in-flight exposure to radiation can break DNA strands and produce chemical radicals that can alter cell function and increase cancer risk.

This risk is increased with both longer flights and flights over poles.

Using a hypothetical flight path to illustrate, Knipp likened flying over a pole (an over-pole-flight from Chicago to Beijing) to being the equivalent of receiving the same dose of radiation one might get from having a chest x-ray.

Typically, commercial airline crew and passengers at roughly 30,000 feet are exposed to low doses of radiation. Knipp expects this radiation amount to increase with the impending solar minimum (a quiet period in the sun’s 22-year cycle), which will grant radiation easier access to the Earth in the coming years. Particularly concerning, according to Knipp, will be when the galactic cosmic rays enter Earth’s atmosphere and penetrate aircraft hulls, producing and scattering additional high-energy particles, which scientists think may cause particle showers within the aircraft.

Currently, there aren’t regulations concerning the documentation of in-flight radiation on commercial aircraft in the U.S.

Knipp argues for more available research in her Space Weather article titled, Essential Science for Understanding Risks from Radiation for Airline Passengers and Crews, “…to prepare for a major, solar-driven space weather radiation event that could force flight diversions or groundings due to anticipated overexposure.”

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Discussion – 4 comments

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Re: Frequent Flyers May Soon Be Exposed to Increased Radiation
2017-May-12 4:40 PM

I know this is serious stuff. I really would not ever want to take that kind of shower, or any kind of shower in-flight. Slippery, wet floors, and an air pocket? OMG! Cosmic ray daughter particle shower anyone? No thank you!

Re: Frequent Flyers May Soon Be Exposed to Increased Radiation
In reply to #1
2017-May-13 8:44 AM

That could come in pretty handy, though. Should the airplane lose power (say, from the flight computer taking a particularly strong hit, wiping its memory); you can still finish your copy of Alas, Babylon by the light of your scintillation counter.

Re: Frequent Flyers May Soon Be Exposed to Increased Radiation
2017-May-12 11:14 PM

An increase equivalent to a chest x-ray? No sweat! Remember that the LNT (Linear No Threshold) theory has been disproven. However, they said "increase;" that means they are not saying what you get now.

Re: Frequent Flyers May Soon Be Exposed to Increased Radiation
2017-May-13 9:04 AM

Do any of us really know how much we are getting in our planetary peregrinations?

E. g.,

Start your kid on a badge in kindergarten? What does one do upon coming into the red zone? Life in a HEPA-filter rad suit, sleep in a lead room, eat food grown in a lead room under grow lights?

Do we really know how much ionizing radiation really kicks in in, especially, higher organisms for different short term exposure rates and/or cumulative lifetime exposures? Do innate individual (human) differences of whatever ilk blot out the gross population exposure statistic radiation impacts in either direction by an order of magnitude or more? Can we as individuals determine with any certainty where we may fall within this spectrum?

As downwinders from the Korean Peninsula, do we just stop worrying and learn to love the bomb, as was Dr. Strangelove's therapeutic recommendation?

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