Column: Roger's Soapbox

Fear of Cosmic Rays

By: | September 14, 2015

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected].

Do you fly regularly? If so, pour yourself a stiff drink and sit down. I have bad news, which I won’t sugarcoat: You’re doomed, lost without hope. You might as well accept it. The only job you’re fit for is president of the United States.

The British Cabinet Office — not a furniture store, but the body that claims to “ensure the effective running of government” — reports that airline passengers and crew could be at risk from dangerous solar cosmic rays. A full report is due any time now from the Cosmic Radiation Advisory Group, and it’s going to say that frequent flyers have had their chips. They’ve run out of luck.

Large explosions on the sun throw out huge amounts of magnetically charged particles, in what are known as coronal mass ejections. The report will indicate that humanity would have a 12-hour warning about such an ejection, which could damage the electricity supply, oil and gas pipelines, and railway signals.

This is not news, apparently. Radiation levels are already modeled for aircrew, but passengers are on their own. During an event, accurate advice is unavailable. So, if you’re on a plane, and you start to feel weird, it’s not down to the so-called omelet you just ate (more fool you). Coronal ejections are to blame.

Absolute evidence of the danger was made available recently by presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who said that Mexican immigrants to the U.S. are “rapists.” Clearly, The Donald, who flies around all the time dispensing his wisdom to those unable to get away before he starts, has had his brain fried by coronal ejections. This might also explain his inevitable electoral ejection.

If you’re on a plane, and you start to feel weird, it’s not down to the so-called omelet you just ate (more fool you). Coronal ejections are to blame.

Solar storms can trigger showers of harmful radiation that could cause health problems not just in the air, but also at ground level. The evidence suggests that although radiation at ground level from solar events is too weak to cause concern, it may trigger “secondary” showers of ionizing particles that can tear apart atoms and molecules.

“Neutrons, which don’t reach the ground, do reach airline altitude,” said Adrian Melott, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas.

“During solar particle events, airplanes are diverted away from the North Pole, where a lot more cosmic rays come down.”

Say, for purposes of illustration, that you return home from a flight to the Phoenix office to discuss the wording of your company’s terms and conditions. You start spouting idiotic and hateful things about foreigners and exaggerating your usefulness to the rest of society, a la Trump. Your wife, who has read this article, rushes you to hospital, where it is confirmed that your brain has been toasted by excessive solar radiation.

You phone your insurance agent. You explain to him that all Canadians are child abusers. He surmises, correctly, that your brain has been baked by the sun while you were aloft.

You ask how much money you will be paid as a consequence. The broker points out that, since your flight was unnecessary, as are the great majority of business flights, your claim will be rejected.

You reply that all insurance brokers are serial killers, and the conversation ends.

Here’s the good news. Once the contents of Hillary Clinton’s emails are made public, she will have to withdraw from the race, and you can go on to be elected president. You appoint your broker as vice president; ground Air Force One; and achieve détente with Vladimir Putin, whom you declare to be a man you can do business with.

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