The missing link between exploding stars, clouds, and climate on Earth

The study reveals how atmospheric ions, produced by the energetic cosmic rays raining down through the atmosphere, helps the growth and formation of cloud condensation nuclei - the seeds necessary for forming clouds in the atmosphere. When the ionization in the atmosphere changes, the number of cloud condensation nuclei changes affecting the properties of clouds. More cloud condensation nuclei mean more clouds and a colder climate, and vice versa. Since clouds are essential for the amount of Solar energy reaching the surface of Earth the implications can be significant for our understanding of why climate has varied in the past and also for future climate changes.

Cloud condensation nuclei can be formed by the growth of small molecular clusters called aerosols. It has until now been assumed that additional small aerosols would not grow and become cloud condensation nuclei, since no mechanism was known to achieve this. The new results reveal, both theoretically and experimentally, how interactions between ions and aerosols can accelerate the growth by adding material to the small aerosols and thereby help them survive to become cloud condensation nuclei. It gives a physical foundation to the large body of empirical evidence showing that Solar activity plays a role in variations in Earth's climate. For example, the Medieval Warm Period around year 1000 AD and the cold period in the Little Ice Age 1300-1900 AD both fits with changes in Solar activity.

"Finally we have the last piece of the puzzle explaining how particles from space affect climate on Earth. It gives an understanding of how changes caused by Solar activity or by super nova activity can change climate." says Henrik Svensmark, from DTU Space at the Technical University of Denmark, lead author of the study. Co-authors are senior researcher Martin B�dker Enghoff (DTU Space), Professor Nir Shaviv (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and Jacob Svensmark, (University of Copenhagen).

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