Cosmic rays and computer crashes

The non amateur stuff. Hawking, black holes, that sort of thing

Moderators: joe, Brian, Guy Fennimore

Post Reply
brian livesey
Posts: 5430
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2006 11:05 am
Location: Lancashire
Contact:

Cosmic rays and computer crashes

Post by brian livesey »

The next time your computer or smart phone crashes, it might just be due to electrically-charged particles generated by cosmic rays, rather than the manufacturer. The rays arrive from outside the Solar System and cause operational failures in microelectronic circuitry:
"This is really a big problem, but is mostly invisible to the public," said Professor Bharat Bhuva, at the Vanderbilt University, to a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The problem is due to a cascade effect when cosmic rays strike the atmosphere, creating secondary particles, including energetic neutrons, muons, pions and alpha particles. Millions of these particles strike us every second, apparently, without any ill effects.
A fraction of the particles have enough energy to interfere with electronic equipment. When they strike an integrated circuit they might alter bits of data stored in memory. This occured in 2008 when a Quantus jet's autopilot disengaged due to a SEU , or single event upset, causing the aircraft to plummet 690 feet in 23 seconds, injuring a third of passengers. SEUs have caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights. An electronic voting machine was affected by an SEU in Belgium, adding thousands of extra votes to one candidate's total.
"When you have a single bit flip," said Professor Bhuva," it could have any number of causes. It could be a software bug or a hardware flaw, for example. The only way you can determine that it is a single-event upset is by eliminating all other possible causes. The semiconductor manufacturers are very concerned about this problem, because it is getting more serious as the size of transistors in computer chips shrink and the power and capacity of our digital systems increases.
"In addition, microelectronic circuits are everywhere and our society is becoming increasingly dependent on them," he said.
brian
Cliff
Posts: 6595
Joined: Sat Dec 11, 2004 8:18 pm
Location: Manchester
Contact:

Re: Cosmic rays and computer crashes

Post by Cliff »

Dear Brian
Speaking as a well known "Ptolemologist", I think back in Ptolemy's day science progressed a bit too slowly. However, some seem to think science today is always advancing, but I suspect it is now advancing too rapidly.
Of course globalisation and excessive use of computers are the problems.
Driverless cars are not in widespread use on our roads yet. However, when they are and get involved in accidents, there is now a good excuse - COSMIC RAYS !
Best wishes from Cliff
brian livesey
Posts: 5430
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2006 11:05 am
Location: Lancashire
Contact:

Re: Cosmic rays and computer crashes

Post by brian livesey »

A good point about the menace of self-driving cars Cliff. To top it all, dystopian Elon Musk hopes to have flying cars in production in two years time. Can you imagine it? Millions of cars on the roads and many thousands overhead.
To return to the original subject matter, the new quantum computers are probably going to be especially susceptible to cosmic ray single event upsets ( SEUs ), unless they can armour them in some way.
Strange to say, the many space probes that have been launched over the years, don't seem to be plagued by SEUs in their onboard computers.
brian
Cliff
Posts: 6595
Joined: Sat Dec 11, 2004 8:18 pm
Location: Manchester
Contact:

Re: Cosmic rays and computer crashes

Post by Cliff »

Dear Brian
The 'Potential' problems of Drones are bad enough, but I imagine Musk's "flying cars" could be a disaster. The only good thing about them might be their potentially high cost might ensure there not too many flying cars in the sky.
The recent helicopter 5 killed made me think me lucky I never got one.
I had some accidents & lucky escapes in motor cars. Flying helicopters I doubt I'd be still here now. If I had a flying car I don't think I would fly it up in the air very often.
As for space flights perhaps a good way to kill time I had nothing better to do !
Best wishes from Cliff
RMSteele
Posts: 566
Joined: Thu Jun 02, 2016 11:32 am
Location: New Farnley, Leeds lat 53.8N long 1.6W
Contact:

Re: Cosmic rays and computer crashes

Post by RMSteele »

Cliff, Motorcycles are my preferred "high". Flying motorcycles, now there's a thought. Another thought is that I've been on one or two but they didn't get airborn intentionally at the time! Cosmic rays aren't very high on my list of concerns. Just filled up my old clonker after its winter lay up. Bit chilly on the nose out there. Bob
Post Reply