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article imageSpace weather starting to affect smartphones

By Tim Sandle     Feb 21, 2017 in Technology
Getting a poor reception on your smartphone or other mobile device might not only be down to a lack of transmitters or interference from technology; the bombardment of Earth from space particles is also a factor, according to a new study.
The research, into the properties of microelectronics, shows how alien subatomic particles coming down from pace disrupt low-grade smartphones, computers and other personal electronic devices. The space matter is in the form of electrically charged particles generated by cosmic rays, originating from beyond the outer edges of the solar system.
Cosmic rays are a form of high-energy radiation. When the rays impact with the Earth's atmosphere they produce showers of secondary particles. These particles sometimes reach the surface. The particles are composed of high-energy protons and atomic nuclei. Data from the Fermi space telescope suggested that most of the cosmic rays originate from supernovae explosions of stars.
The interference of these particles on electronic equipment has been researcher by Professor Bharat Bhuva who works at Vanderbilt University. The researcher presented his findings to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston in February 2017.
As the particles reach Earth they particles carry sufficient energy to interfere with the operation of microelectronic circuitry. As these interact with integrated circuits, the particles alter individual bits of data stored in memory. This term for this is, euphemistically, a “single-event upset”.
Because it is near-impossible to predict when and where such particles will hit the malfunctions caused become very difficult to characterize. This means when a device malfunctions this could be due to particle event or to glitch with the device.
The implications of the research are that improved shielding may be required for mobile devices going forwards. The cost of this, relative to a particle event happening, might mean that lower cost electrical devices are excluded and risk becomes something consumers need to weight up prior to making a purchase. The use of three-dimensional architecture for chips has also been shown to be less vulnerable to particle events.
It is not, however, only mobile devices that are affected and some particle related events can be quite serious. For example, the avionics system of a Qantus passenger jet flying from Singapore to Perth was hot by a single-event upset that caused the autopilot to disengage. This caused the plane to drop over 600 feet. This incident alone demonstrates why the bombardment of the Earth with particles requires the attention of scientists and governments.
More about Smartphone, Wireless, Space, particles, Cosmic rays
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