Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “cosmic rays”

What’s the effect of cosmic rays on eyesight?

In my entry for Cosmicopia: An abundance of cosmic rays I claim you can answer the question “What’s the effect of cosmic rays on eyesight?” with this resource. Here’s how:

  1. Go to the site and choose “Ask Us”
  2. Then click on Answers to previous cosmic and heliospheric questions
  3. Then click on Cosmic Rays, Energetic Particles, Plasma
  4. Here you’ll find two questions that bear on eyesight:

Under “Light from Cosmic Rays”:

I have also read that different astronauts have claimed to have seen what they believe are cosmic rays when they closed their eyes. These were as brief bursts of light. Is this true?

The light astronauts may see when they close their eyes is caused by cosmic rays – but it’s produced via a mechanism known as Cherenkov radiation. The particles actually produce the light inside the eyeball.

Dr. Louis Barbier

Cherenkov radiation may also explain why some people see flashes during intense radiotherapy for cancer. To learn more about inside the eyeball flashes, have a look at these search results from usa.gov on [Cherenkov radiation eyes].

Under “Cosmic Ray Effects on Humans”

Cosmic rays definitely can have an effect on astronauts, including those on the space station. One well-known effect is that a higher percentage of astronauts develop cataracts than do people who have not been in space.

If you’re interested in going deeper on astronauts developing cataracts from cosmic rays, you can browse this list of search results from usa.gov on [astronaut cataracts].

Cosmocopia is one of a number of resources from my chapter What if Your Story isn’t Set on Earth? of Writer’s Guide to Government Information.


Cosmicopia: An abundance of cosmic rays

Cosmicopia: An abundance of cosmic rays – http://helios.gsfc.nasa.gov

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is an isotope?
  • What are galactic cosmic rays?
  • What’s the effect of cosmic rays on eyesight?
  • What are the 10 most abundant elements in cosmic rays?


From the website:

“Cosmicopia contains an abundance (a cornucopia, if you will) of information about cosmic rays, the Earth’s magnetosphere, the Sun, space weather, and other exciting topics in space science. Brought to you by the ACE mission and the cosmic ray group at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, this site is aimed at the general public and intended to be accessible to interested readers without a background in this area of science.”

The site is part tutorial and part links to other resources. It is broken up into four sections: Basics, Cosmic Rays, Sun and Space Weather. The Cosmic Rays section includes a FAQ page.

Story and Scene Ideas

Writers need to know about cosmic rays, the magnetosphere and space weather if they send characters into space for any extended period of time using 21st Century technology. If your character is in an unshielded ship headed to Mars when a solar storm breaks, he will die. Add some shielding or explain how your character has been genetically altered to resist radiation. Same goes for when she and her companions are exploring Mars. One the first tasks should be to find or create shelter.

Knowing about space weather can help add spice to stories on earth too. A strong enough Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) could potentially bring down power grids and scramble satellite communications if the proper precautions are not taken.

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