NASA project NAIRAS to predict radiation exposure for airline flights

Spectacular displays of the northern lights can signal dangerous conditions for airline flights.A new space weather forecasting system designed by NASA may soon be helping airlines to avoid the worst effects of radiation from space for pilots, flight attendants and passengers.

When travelling around the world, many flights these days fly on routes that take them over the poles. This saves time and fuel, however, at the same time, it exposes everyone on board the flight to higher levels of radiation from space. This is because the shape of Earth's magnetic field essentially opens up a gap at the north and south poles where high energy particles from space and from the sun can be funneled down close to the surface. These particles are what cause the auroras — the beautiful northern and southern lights — but they also represent a radiation hazard to anyone flying through the area.

NAIRAS — Nowcast of Atmosphere Ionizing Radiation for Aviation Safety — is a new forecasting system in development at NASA, which is showing promise in giving airlines a real-time look at radiation levels so they can plan their flight paths accordingly.

The folks at Science@NASA produced this video recently that talks about the new system:

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More and more people are flying these days and being exposed to this radiation from space. We're also getting closer and closer to commercial 'trans-orbital' flights every day, which will only increase the amount of radiation exposure on flights. Having this kind of nowcasting/forecasting system in place will go a long way towards helping us make travel safer, not only for the passengers, but also for the pilots and flight attendants who spend a significant amount of their time in the air.

(Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

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