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Billions of extra-terrestrial rays and particles could shower the Earth threatening the safety of planes and passengers, an expert has warned.
Dramatic changes in solar activity could raise the risk of cancerous damage to the cells of those on board planes flying over the Poles, claims professor of space environment physics Mike Lockwood.
He said that people who regularly take long-haul flights could be at particular risk from solar radiation.
In the future, those flying to Canada or the west coast of the U.S. at least two or three times a year should consider undergoing screening for potentially cancerous damage, he said.
The Reading University professor insisted he is not being alarmist but wants people to be aware of the potential health risks
His warning centres on changes in activity in the sun’s turbulent magnetic field.
The signs are that we are coming out of a decades-long period of high activity, during which the sun was covered in dozens of dark spots and spat vast flares and balls of superheated gas the size of planets.
In between this and the coming quiet period is a ‘danger zone’, during which more hazardous rays created by exploding stars and dangerous particles – made by clouds of gas spewed out by the sun – will hurtle towards Earth.
At very high doses, they could cause cancerous changes to the body’s cells.
The Earth’s magnetic field will shield most of us from harm, but those flying at high altitude over the Poles could be in danger, said the professor.
The researcher has also urged the aviation industry to check that plane electronics, which were designed without this change in space weather in mind, are able to cope.
Professor Lockwood, who details his warning in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, said: ‘I am not being alarmist.
‘It is a serious issue and has to be talked about but it shouldn’t put people off going on an aeroplane.’
The professor said there were no regulations concerning passenger exposure to radiation while on flights.
He said: ‘Analysis shows that the risk of the space-weather effects is considerably enhanced over the next century compared with the space age thus far.’