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Evidence that cosmic rays seed clouds
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05/23/2011 04:10 PM
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By firing a particle beam into a cloud chamber, physicists in Denmark and the UK have shown how cosmic rays could stimulate the formation of water droplets in the Earth's atmosphere. The researchers say this is the best experimental evidence yet that the Sun influences the climate by altering the intensity of the cosmic-ray flux reaching the Earth's surface.
Clouds and sunlight over the Indian Ocean
The now conventional view on global warming, as stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is that most of the warming recorded in the past 50 years has been caused by emissions of manmade greenhouse gases. But some scientists argue that the Sun might have a significant influence on changes to the Earth's climate, pointing out that in centuries past there has been a close correlation between global temperatures and solar activity.
However, changes to the Sun's brightness are believed to have altered temperatures on Earth by no more than a few hundredths of a degree in the last 150 years. Researchers have therefore been investigating ways that the Sun could indirectly modify the Earth's climate, and one hypothesis, put forward by Henrik Svensmark of the National Space Institute in Copenhagen, posits a link between solar activity and cosmic-ray flux.
According to Svensmark, cosmic rays seed low-lying clouds that reflect some of the Sun's radiation back into space, and the number of cosmic rays reaching the Earth is dependent on the strength of the solar magnetic field. When this magnetic field is stronger (as evidenced by larger numbers of sunspots), more of the rays are deflected, fewer clouds are formed and so the Earth heats up; whereas when the field is weaker, the Earth cools down.
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