Science

Cosmic Particles from Space May Crash Your Computers, Phones, Others

By Charles Omedo , Feb 18, 2017 03:34 AM EST
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Extreme cosmic rays come from mystery sources in galaxies far, far away

Researchers from Vanderbilt University's Radiation Effects Research Group have blamed computer crashes and phone freezes on cosmic particles from outer space. The research group explained that cosmic particles are electrically charged and generated from cosmic rays. They insist these cause outages and interference with electronics but without any noticed effects on humans.

What you must know about single-event upset

The leader of the study team, Bharat Bhuva, is a professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University. He explained the dynamics of cosmic particles on electronics at the yearly conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston. He said the name of the interfering cosmic particles is single-event upset (SEU).

According to Bhuva, SEUs does not occur frequently. But when it does, it can be as minute as causing photo images on a smartphone's camera to flicker for some seconds or interfere with the electronic circuitry of a passenger plane, causing its crash. In fact, the phenomenon was fingered for adding 4,096 extra votes to a candidate in an electronic voting error in Belgium in 2003. It has also been blamed for power outages or short-circuitry in larger electronic systems, Computerworld reports.

Microchip manufacturers are now aware of this problem

Microchip manufacturers seem to be aware of this problem today, and this may have informed the decision of Fujitsu engineers to climb the top of a volcano range in Hawaii in 2008 to study how cosmic rays affect computer operations. Semiconductor manufacturers are also beginning to produce tinier components of consumer electronics since SEU affects larger systems more, Fox 17 News wrote. And scientists are also starting to study how consumer technologies can be impacted by SEU among other forces beyond the powers of man.

Established in 1987, Vanderbilt University's Radiation Effects Research Group was initially set up to research military and space applications. However, its scope of activities was widened in 2001 to include studies into the effect of cosmic radiation on consumer electronics. Its efforts have broadened a lot of knowledge base on the phenomenon of cosmic rays and radiation and how it impacts the lives and technologies of modern man.

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