Study of cosmic rays reveals secrets of solar-terrestrial science



For many years cosmic rays provided the most important source of energetic particles for studies of subatomic physics. Today, cosmic rays are being studied as a natural phenomenon that can tell us much about both the Earth's environment in space and distant astrophysical processes. Cosmic rays are naturally occurring energetic particles—mainly ions—with kinetic energies extending from just above thermal energies to more than 1020 electron volts (eV). They constantly bombard the Earth from all directions, with more than 1018 particles having energies >1 MeV striking the top of the Earth's atmosphere each second. Figure 1 illustrates the continuous cosmic ray energy spectrum.