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Forbush decrease

Forbush decrease

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A Forbush decrease is a rapid decrease in the observed galactic cosmic ray
Galactic cosmic ray
Galactic cosmic rays are cosmic rays that have their origin inside our Galaxy. GCRs are high-energy charged particles, and are usually protons, electrons, and fully ionized nuclei of light elements...

 intensity following a coronal mass ejection
Coronal mass ejection
A coronal mass ejection is a massive burst of solar wind, other light isotope plasma, and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona or being released into space....

 (CME). It occurs due to the magnetic field
Magnetic field
A magnetic field is a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude ; as such it is a vector field.Technically, a magnetic field is a pseudo vector;...

 of the plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

 solar wind
Solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...

 sweeping some of the galactic cosmic rays away from Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

. The term Forbush decrease was named after the American physicist Scott E. Forbush
Scott Forbush
Scott Ellsworth Forbush was an American astronomer, physicist and geophysicist who is recognized as having laid the observational foundations for many of the central features of solar-interplanetary-terrestrial physics, which at the time was an under-developed field of study...

, who studied cosmic rays in the 1930s and 1940s.


The Forbush decrease is usually observable by particle detector
Particle detector
In experimental and applied particle physics, nuclear physics, and nuclear engineering, a particle detector, also known as a radiation detector, is a device used to detect, track, and/or identify high-energy particles, such as those produced by nuclear decay, cosmic radiation, or reactions in a...

s on Earth within a few days after the CME, and the decrease takes place over the course of a few hours. Over the following several days, the solar cosmic ray intensity returns to normal. Forbush decreases have also been observed by humans on Mir
Mir was a space station operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001, at first by the Soviet Union and then by Russia. Assembled in orbit from 1986 to 1996, Mir was the first modular space station and had a greater mass than that of any previous spacecraft, holding the record for the...

and the International Space Station
International Space Station
The International Space Station is a habitable, artificial satellite in low Earth orbit. The ISS follows the Salyut, Almaz, Cosmos, Skylab, and Mir space stations, as the 11th space station launched, not including the Genesis I and II prototypes...

 (IIS), and by instruments onboard Pioneer 10
Pioneer 10
Pioneer 10 is a 258-kilogram robotic space probe that completed the first interplanetary mission to Jupiter, and became the first spacecraft to achieve escape velocity from the Solar System. The project was managed by the NASA Ames Research Center and the contract for the construction of the...

and 11
Pioneer 11
Pioneer 11 is a 259-kilogram robotic space probe launched by NASA on April 6, 1973 to study the asteroid belt, the environment around Jupiter and Saturn, solar wind, cosmic rays, and eventually the far reaches of the solar system and heliosphere...

and Voyager 1
Voyager 1
The Voyager 1 spacecraft is a 722-kilogram space probe launched by NASA in 1977, to study the outer Solar System and eventually interstellar space. Operating for as of today , the spacecraft receives routine commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network. At a distance of as of...

and 2
Voyager 2
The Voyager 2 spacecraft is a 722-kilogram space probe launched by NASA on August 20, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and eventually interstellar space...

, even past the orbit of Neptune
Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System. Named for the Roman god of the sea, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter and the third largest by mass. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and is slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times...


The magnitude of a Forbush decrease depends on three factors:
  • the size of the CME
  • the strength of the magnetic fields in the CME
  • the proximity of the CME to the Earth

A Forbush decrease is sometimes defined as being a decrease of at least 10% of galactic cosmic rays on Earth, but ranges from about 3% to 20%. Reductions of 30% or more have been recorded aboard the ISS.

The overall rate of Forbush decreases tends to follow the 11-year sunspot
Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the photosphere of the Sun that appear visibly as dark spots compared to surrounding regions. They are caused by intense magnetic activity, which inhibits convection by an effect comparable to the eddy current brake, forming areas of reduced surface temperature....

 cycle. Because it is more difficult to shield astronauts from galactic cosmic rays than from solar wind, it is hypothesized that future astronauts might benefit most from radiation shielding during solar maxima
Solar maximum
Solar maximum or solar max is the period of greatest solar activity in the solar cycle of the sun. During solar maximum, sunspots appear....

, when CMEs are most prevalent.

Effects on the atmosphere

A 2009 peer reviewed article found that low clouds contain less liquid water following Forbush decreases, and for the most influential events the liquid water in the oceanic atmosphere can diminish by as much as 7%. Further peer-reviewed work found no connection between Forbush decreases and cloud properties until the connection was found in diurnal temperature range.

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