Feeds

CERN's cosmic cloudmaker cranks up

May solve climate mystery, Thermageddon scare

The next step in data security

While CERN's vast Large Hadron Collider accelerator gathers all the headlines - allowing humble hacks to become Hollywood blockbuster scriptwriters - an ancient piece of atom hardware is beginning experiments that may prove to be of significance.

CERN's much-anticipated CLOUD experiment has begun, the atom lab says. Using the 50-year-old Proton Synchrotron, the experiment simulates cosmic rays passing through the earth's atmosphere, and hopes to reveal the extent to which the constant background drizzle of charged particles plays a role in cloud formation. Earlier experiments have suggested that ionisation causes clouds to "seed" - and that ionisation is influenced by the type and quantity of cosmic rays that reach the earth.

Both the sun and the earth's magnetic fields act as umbrellas, protecting the surface from the high energy particles, although two particles still reach the surface per second. But small changes in the cosmic ray flux produce significant changes in cloud cover. When fewer cosmic rays reach earth, the planet's climate is warmer, when more reach earth, the climate cools.

"So marked is the response to relatively small variations in the total ionization, we suspect that a large fraction of Earth's clouds could be controlled by ionisation," noted Danish scientist Henrik Svesmark this summer. Svensmark has pioneered the research using smaller experiments, but has waited over a decade to see it tested on such a scale.

Much of the recent interest comes from climate watchers. Clouds are one of the biggest factors in determining global surface temperature, but the UN's IPCC admits the level of scientific understanding of them is poor.

The cosmic ray effect - a factor of the background CBR bombardment itself, and the relative strength of the earth and the Sun's magnetic shields - shows a strong correlation between temperature, CBR and is extraordinary. Here's the relationship over the short term - around 2,000 years.

And here's the correlation into deep time, with CO2 as a comparison.

In addition, "deep freezes" in the Earth's temperatures have coincided with short-lived but intense bursts of cosmic ray activity. Modulation is thought to reflect the Sun's passage through spiral arms of the Milky Way, and also the Sun's oscillation in relation to the plane of the galaxy. The Sun bobs up and down 2.7 times per orbit.

CERN became involved when a visiting lecture by former New Scientist editor Nigel Calder was attended by Jasper Kirkby - CLOUD's project leader. It's taken 12 years to fire up the particles for this major test. CERN has an interview with Kirkby here. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.