A major effort to protect a data center from cosmic rays, for example by lining it with lead, would be very costly. It is easier and cheaper to keep backups of geographically distributed data. If the worst happens, clients can be diverted to the backup server, Grayson says.
But for some applications, cosmic rays are taken seriously. Consider the stack of electronics in a modern aircraft that connects the pilot’s controls to the rudder, for example. Major aerospace and defense manufacturers are using components that are resistant to some of the effects of cosmic rays, says Tim Morin, technical fellow at Microchip Semiconductor. His company is among those who supply these ingredients.
“It is only immune to disturbances in a single event that are caused by neutrons,” he says. “We are not affected by that.”
Moran declines to detail exactly what approach his company has taken to make computer chips that are unaffected by neutron interference, except to say it’s a matter of materials and circuit design.
Obviously, not every application requires such high-level protection. It’s also not possible to achieve this with every type of computer memory, Morin adds. But for organizations that put planes and satellites above our heads, this is clearly an important consideration.
The technology that practically all of us now rely on has varying levels of risk associated with it. But it is important to note that as transistors in computer chips become smaller in newer and more advanced semiconductors, They become more susceptible to electromagnetic interferencevery.
“The cost to reverse the condition is smaller,” Rich explains. If only a very small charge is needed, then the chances of a subatomic particle being stimulated by such a charge increase, in principle. In addition, there are increasing numbers of computer chips, in devices from phones to washing machines. “The total area that can be damaged is significantly increased,” Rich says. The subatomic rain that falls on our devices has more targets than ever to hit.
The consequences of this can be dire, but so far, it is difficult to know to what extent this can harm us or the systems that govern the modern world. For Marie-Moe, the strange behavior of her pacemaker on that trip to Amsterdam six years ago led to increased knowledge of the device so important to the healthy functioning of her heart. but it Help find it In the cybersecurity vulnerabilities of pacemakers.
If the stray neutron is really behind it all, it’s quite a chain reaction. So at least there can be positive results from small fluctuations, as well as frightening results.
“I’m really glad this happened to me,” she says.
If you like this story, Subscribe to the bbc.com weekly newslettercalled “The Essential List” – a carefully selected collection of stories from the BBC futureAnd the cultureAnd the work lifeAnd the Travel And the early Delivered to your inbox every Friday.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”