Myths – Cosmic rays cause errors


Myth


Cosmic rays cause errors in computers.

Reality


TRUE.

explanations


Myths - Cosmic rays cause errorsCosmic rays are high energy rays created by cosmic major events (exploding supernovae, neutron stars eject, etc.)
(These are electrically charged particles whose speed can reach up to a third of the speed of light.)

When these rays come in contact with the atoms of the atmosphere, they cause particles sheaves (protons, electrons, neutrons ...).

These neutrons problematic.

They pass through matter like butter (because they spend in the interstitial space between atoms).
When - by accident - their trajectory meets that of an atom, it is disintegrated, causing emission (among others) of electrons.

These disturbances are sufficient to change the state of a bit in the memory of an electronic circuit.

The consequences can be:
  • computer data alteration.
  • Crash computers.
  • grilled circuits.



These disturbances can reach any kind of electronics: computer, mobile phone, medical device, power electronics (train, etc.), planes, cars ...


At 10 kilometers altitude ago 10000 neutrons which pass through each square centimeter per hour.
At sea level, is about 10 per square centimeter per hour.

A CNRS researcher believes that a laptop, plane, a risk to plant every 5 hours.


The ever increasing miniaturization of circuits makes them more susceptible to this phenomenon, and the fact that we put in more and more in the same volume increases the probability of having an error.


This is why the hardware and software manufacturers are trying to find parades (doping silicon substrates, systems error correcting (ECC), redundant circuits (double or triple), etc.)


Example result: In 2003, elections in Belgium were performed simultaneously traditional and electronically.
A difference of 4096 votes had been recorded. The experts could not attribute this difference as cosmic rays.
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