Science & Technology

Scientists find link between surges of cosmic radiation from space and earthquakes

Ability to predict specific locations remains unclear at present

By Nandita Banerji
Published: Tuesday 20 June 2023
Impending earthquakes can be witnessed from space. Photo for representation: IFJ PAN/NASA/JSC

Scientists have identified a striking link between earthquakes and changes in the intensity of cosmic radiation measured on Earth’s surface, according to a recent study. This correlation could aid in earthquake prediction by up to two weeks, however, the ability to predict specific locations remains unclear at present.

Cosmic ray data shifted 15 days forward relative to seismic data can help predict earthquakes, according to researchers from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IFJ PAN) in Krakow, Poland. The research paper was published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, June 2023 edition.

The researchers looked into verifying a previously known hypothesis that earthquakes could potentially be predicted by observing changes in cosmic radiation. “A correlation between the two phenomena does indeed exist, but it manifests characteristics that no one had expected,” the institute wrote on its website.

IFJ PAN started the Cosmic Ray Extremely Distributed Observatory (CREDO) project in 2016 — an international, virtual cosmic ray observatory accessible to all. It aggregates and processes data from numerous detectors, including particular smartphone sensors transformed into cosmic ray detectors via a simple app.

A fundamental responsibility of CREDO is to track worldwide alterations in the flux of secondary cosmic radiation that reaches our planet’s surface. This radiation primarily originates in the planet’s stratosphere.

Earth’s magnetic field, a result of eddy currents in our planet’s liquid core, alters the trajectory of primary cosmic radiation’s charged particles, said Piotr Homola of IFJ PAN, the coordinator of CREDO and first author of the research article.

“At first glance, the idea that there is a link between earthquakes and cosmic radiation, in its primary form reaching us mainly from the Sun and deep space, may seem strange. However, its physical foundations are fully rational,” said Homola on the institution’s website.

Any substantial earthquakes linked to disturbances in the Earth’s dynamo flows would alter the magnetic field of Earth, thus impacting the path of primary cosmic radiation. The fallout of these alterations would be apparent in the changes in the counts of secondary cosmic ray particles recorded by ground-based detectors.

However, correlations between changes in cosmic ray intensity and earthquakes are not apparent in location-specific analyses. They only appear when seismic activity is taken into account on a global scale.

This fact may mean that in changes in cosmic ray intensity one can see a phenomenon to which our planet is subjected as a whole. The discovery has led to intriguing questions about the potential influence of phenomena like dark matter streams.

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