Are you a frequent flyer? Solar storm radiation can be harmful

Are you a frequent flyer? Solar storm radiation can be harmful

While we are well aware of the ionising radiation risk associated with medical X-rays and CT Scans, how many of us give any thought to the ionising radiation risk associated with flying?

Brett Carter, Postdoctoral Researcher in Space Weather and Ionospheric Physics at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia examines the risk associated with increased radiation exposure to passengers on commercial long-distance flights during so-called “solar radiation storms”:

Flying and CT-scanning might be similar in that you are stuck in a noisy tube wondering how long before it is over, but at least with flying, you might get a window seat and hopefully you have a more exotic destination than your doctor's rooms...


Photo: It took maximum optical and digital zoom plus several attempts to snap this image of one of Australia's iconic passenger aircraft cruising overhead while keeping it all in frame :)

4 Replies

  • An interesting post.

    About a year ago a New Zealand air hostess with many millions of flying hours was attempting to claim compensation due to the CLL caused by the radiation from long flight times. She was looking to find a reason for her CLL.

    Sadly there is just not the evidence to prove anything one way or another for the airline pilots and hostesses.

    Again more research needed..


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  • Pointing out possible radiation exposure sources without supplying QUANTITATIVE values is, IMHO, ill advised paranoia peddling. It spreads fear without giving the listening the means to evaluate the hazards and trade-offs.

    How Much radiation exposure do you get per hour flying at X altitude? How Much from a C-T? That is useful information.

  • My purpose in posting this article was not to cause undue concern but the opposite. Our society tends to either be ignorant of the fact that we are bathed in low levels of ionising radiation from natural sources or overlook it when we become concerned about medical ionising radiation exposure. Our bodies have mechanisms for repairing radiation damage - to a degree.

    The article is specifically about the higher radiation levels during a solar storm event and much of the latter half of the article looks at the likely additional exposure received by passengers exposed:

    "Even though the radiation levels air travellers were exposed to during this event are much higher than they might have been had an appropriate warning been issued, they were still comparatively low – on par with the dose that one would receive from a number of chest X-rays."

    The main thrust of the article is that monitoring actual radiation exposure from space is important for the very reason you state, yet our means of doing so "was turned off during the US government shutdown last year – which went into effect just as a solar radiation storm began – 500,000 people received increased radiation doses."

    As the article concludes:

    "Independent of whether or not this particular space weather event exposed air travellers to dangerous levels of radiation, these studies are in clear agreement that increasing radiation monitoring is a must in the future.

    This is especially important for the aviation industry, and the provision of such information must not be hindered by short-term political partisan interests."


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