... "In 2009, cosmic ray intensities have increased 19% beyond anything we've seen in the past 50 years," says Richard Mewaldt of Caltech. "The increase is significant, and it could mean we need to re-think how much radiation shielding astronauts take with them on deep-space missions."
"The cause of the surge is solar minimum, a deep lull in solar activity that began around 2007 and continues today. Researchers have long known that cosmic rays go up when solar activity goes down. Right now solar activity is as weak as it has been in modern times, setting the stage for what Mewaldt calls "a perfect storm of cosmic rays."
"We're experiencing the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century," says Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center, "so it is no surprise that cosmic rays are at record levels for the Space Age." ...
"If the flattening continues as it has in previous solar minima, we could see cosmic ray fluxes jump all the way to 30% above previous Space Age highs," predicts Mewaldt."
"Earth is in no great peril from the extra cosmic rays. The planet's atmosphere and magnetic field combine to form a formidable shield (?!?what happens during a reversal?!?) against space radiation, protecting humans on the surface. Indeed, we've weathered storms much worse than this. Hundreds of years ago, cosmic ray fluxes were at least 200% higher than they are now. Researchers know this because when cosmic rays hit the atmosphere, they produce an isotope of beryllium, 10Be, which is preserved in polar ice. By examining ice cores, it is possible to estimate cosmic ray fluxes more than a thousand years into the past. Even with the recent surge, cosmic rays today are much weaker than they have been at times in the past millennium."