Scientists To Study Earth’s Radiation Belt With High-Tech Satellite Instruments

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NASA is launching twin satellites on August 24 from Cape Canaveral, Florida that will conduct the most intimate study to date of the Van Allen Radiation Belts that envelop Earth. The two-year Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission will study the extremes of space weather and should help scientists improve space weather forecasting.

Space weather doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people on Earth, but, according to one researcher from University of Iowa , everybody is affected by it. Pick up your cell phone to make a call; take a flight on your next vacation; step outside to catch a glimpse of the northern lights; these are all instances where you become affected by space weather. And changes in space weather can wreak havoc on satellites, power grids, and GPS systems.

The Van Allen Radiation Belts, named after UI astrophysicist James A. Van Allen who discovered the phenomena in 1958 during the flight of the Explorer 1 satellite, are two donut-shaped regions of high-energy particles trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field. When first discovered, the belts were thought to remain fairly stable. However, future observations revealed that these structures are not nearly as stable as believed. And even now, the reasons why are a mystery.

The twin satellites are scheduled for a 4:07 a.m. (EST) lift-off on August 24 aboard a United Launch Vehicle Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. A host of highly-sensitive instruments equipped to the satellites will aid in the study of the radiation belts.

Harlan Spence, director of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, is leading the studies involving the Energetic Particle, Composition, and Thermal Plasma (ECT) instrument. Roy Torbert, director of UNH‘s Space Science Center (SSC), is a co-leader on the Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) experiment. The principal investigator for the EMFISIS instrument is Craig Kletzing, F. Wendell Miller Professor of physics and astronomy in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Teams from the University of Minnesota , the New Jersey Institute of Technology , and the National Reconnaissance Office will operate three other instruments aboard the twin satellites, each of which weighs 1,455 pounds and were built for NASA at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

Collectively, the five instrument suites will give scientists the most precise measurements to date of the high-energy particles and magnetic and electric fields and waves in this near-Earth region of space where space weather occurs.

Space weather is largely affected by activity from the Sun, including solar storms (coronal mass ejections) which can be massive and pose serious threats to electrical systems in our orbit and here on the surface of the planet. The RSBP mission will enable a better understanding of space weather conditions and allow scientists to better predict the severity of such events, events that can not only disrupt electrical systems, but also pose a danger to human health.

“There can be a solar storm and the radiation belts will get pumped up, or nothing happens, or they’ll nearly disappear entirely. That’s puzzling, and right now we don’t understand enough to say why it’s the case,” said Spence at a pre-launch press conference held on August 20.

To gain a better understanding of the radiation belts and how it affects space weather, the dual satellites will chase each other in common, highly-elliptical orbits to achieve simultaneous spatial and temporal measurements of the particles and the magnetic and electrical fields and waves.

“We know we can’t study the particles in the absence of the electromagnetic fields that are causing them to change,” noted Spence. “Until RBSP there has never been a comprehensive, coordinated investigation with two spacecraft simultaneously.”

Spence’s ECT suite is comprised of three main instruments including the Magnetic Electron Ion Spectrometer, which has four versions on each satellite. Other instruments in the ECT suite include the Helium Oxygen Proton Electron spectrometer and the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope. The ECT suite was developed with the aid of several organizations including the Los Alamos National Laboratory , Southwest Research Institute (SWRI ), The Aerospace Corporation , and the University of Colorado .

Besides developing partners, the ECT suite also has a host of partners, including teams from Dartmouth College, UCLA , NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, as well as international partners at the University of Alberta, the British Antarctic Survey, and the Office National d’Études et de Recherches Aerospatiales (ONERA) in Toulouse, France.

“The EMFISIS suite will measure the electric and magnetic fields and waves that both result from radiation belt particle interactions and have a significant effect on both the energization and loss of these particles. Having two satellites in the same orbit gives us new insights into these processes and how they change in time and space,” said Torbert at a pre-launch press conference.

The RSBP mission is the first such mission to be launched by NASA in more than two decades. Like other NASA projects, this mission has two main reasons for existing: it will gather practical information and it is a part of mankind’s continuing exploration of space.

“The practical reason is: that’s a part of space that we utilize. The outer radiation belts are where all our communication satellites exist, the various things that make sure that GPS works, as well as telephone communications,” Kletzing said. “They can be affected by these particles, and, in fact, it has happened that those satellites have actually been knocked out by radiation.”

“So, understanding these effects and how they happen and, hopefully, get beyond to where we can do some level of prediction is a very important practical reason,” he added.

“Additionally, the various manned missions that NASA has planned to go beyond the Space Station to places like the moon or Mars also require transiting through this region,” noted Kletzing. “So, understanding the right time to go—when the particles are fewest so that you don’t impact human health is a very important thing to understand.”

The most exciting part of this project is that this is the first time NASA is launching twin satellites; two identical satellites, each carrying the same sets of instrumentation, that will offer scientists for the first time to get comparable evidence from two sources instead of relying on just one, according to Kletzing.

The UI’s EMFISIS instruments will measure the various kinds of waves the spacecraft will encounter. UI’s Kletzing and co-investigator Bill Kurth, also of UI, built the Waves and search coil magnetometer sections for the EMFISIS suite. The UI also worked with the Goddard Space Flight Center, which built a magnetometer as a part of the UI instrument suite. UNH provided the computer that controls all of the EMFISIS measurements.

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New Radiation Norms: Manufacturers Have to Phase Out Old Phones By August 2013

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A copy of a note by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to mobile phone manufacturers, which was reviewed by Mint, gives the manufacturers a year more before their handsets that are not in line with the new radiation norms are phased out.

This is the latest in an ongoing attempt by the department to make mobile handset manufacturers conform to the new radiation norms. So far, the September 1 deadline persists for new models to comply with the Specific absorption rate (SAR) norms, while older phones can do so till August 31, 2013.

As per a notice by DoT in January, the SAR value had been revised to 1.6 watts per kilogram from 2 watts per kilogram (W/kg).

The revision came following a recommendation of an internal committee of the government comprising officials and experts from the DoT, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Department of Biotechnology, the Ministries of Health, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The committee then submitted its recommendations in November.

As part of the new reforms, every handset manufactured in or imported to the country will be monitored for its compliance with the SAR limit, and no handsets with SAR count above the permissible limit will be allowed to be sold.

Radiation from mobile phones has been a topic of active discussion in the country, especially at a time when the device is so popular. We had reported earlier that there was a growing need for the government to tackle the mobile phone radiation problem on a war footing.

Some movement has already been initiated by the Delhi government with the impending introduction of radiation tags on mobile phones. In fact, in one of our earlier reports we had stated that beginning from September 1 this year, there would be more rigorous checks on the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones.

The SAR essentially measures at the rate at which the body absorbs energy when exposed to a radio frequency electromagnetic field or electronic devices using radio spectrum. On the topic of the extension of the deadline for old phones, the report further quoted Pankaj Mohindroo, National President of the Indian Cellular Association lobby group as saying, “”This is just keeping in mind the (18-24 month) product life cycle of the existing models. The government has carefully considered the demand and supply position of mobile phones with the revised SAR value, time required to launch new models of mobile phones and phasing out of existing models.””

Recently, it had also been reported that at an international conference organised by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal confirmed that the cellphone tower radiation levels in the country are well within the prescribed limits; hence, safe.

Post their respective deadlines, only those phones complying with the revised SAR value of 1.6W/kg would be allowed to be manufactured or imported in the country.

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Study to Examine Impact of Radiation From Cell Phone Towers

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The Ministry of Environment and Forests has commissioned a study on the impact of radiation from cellular phone towers on the avian population, Union Minister of Environment Jayanthi Natarajan said here on Friday.

Addressing reporters on the sidelines of the sixth edition of ‘Beacon 2012,’ a meet on business ethics hosted by the Loyola Institute of Business Administration, Ms. Natarajan said that the report of the study, commissioned a couple of days ago, would be submitted in three months.

The study was commissioned against the backdrop of a previous study finding that the electromagnetic radiation from these communication towers affected bees very badly and reports of adverse effect on scavenger birds in certain parts of Orissa, the Minister said.

“We’re now worried that the radiation on a particular wavelength will have a deleterious effect on the avian population. This is what prompted the study.”

The Ministry would write to the Telecom Ministry suggesting a mechanism, a task force, perhaps – to monitor radiation from mobile towers, the Minister said.

On the controversy over Dow Chemicals being a sponsor at the London Olympics, Ms. Natarajan said: “I strongly feel as an Indian that somebody who has been responsible for such a tremendous environmental disaster in this country should not be sponsoring the Olympics.”

Earlier, addressing the LIBA meet, Ms. Natarajan urged the business fraternity to adopt a Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility in place of the CSR and said the Ministry was moving towards a system of self-regulation and self-monitoring.

While hailing the Indian corporate sector for being supportive of environment protection, Ms. Natarajan said there was much more to be done apart from adopting the path of self-regulation.

The Ministry proposed to introduce 24/7 pollution monitoring by industries and posting outcomes on the website to provide a greater degree of transparency and also push for stiffer penalties on violators of environment laws.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Reiterating the Indian position on climate change, Ms. Natarajan categorically stated that a green economy could not be equated with green protectionism, and countries that polluted the environment for the last 150 years had to pay for it while India’s right to grow and develop could never be bartered away.

BIGGEST GAIN

The biggest gain from the Durban climate change summit apart from the extension of the Kyoto Protocol – still the only rules-based international instrument that made it binding on some developed countries to undertake emission cuts and emission reductions in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibility – was that “the Durban Platform was concluded under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and the convention makes it absolutely clear and applicable to all parties that equity is at the heart of any action and any agreement on climate change.”

REDUCING EMISSIONS

Citing a Stockholm Institute study to press the case that the US and other Western nations “continued to cause pollution,” despite their commitments, Ms. Natarajan said India was, on the contrary, doing a great deal through its National Action Plan on Climate Change. “We have voluntarily offered internationally that by 2020, we will reduce the intensity of our energy emissions by 20-25 per cent.”

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Mobile Phones Might Soon Come With a Health Hazard Label

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Mobile phones are potentially detrimental to our health. Not only do we spend countless hours twiddling our thumbs on touchscreens and squinting at ever-too-small text in the middle of the night, but we’re also subject to potentially harmful radiation. This is why legislators are trying to enact a law that will require manufacturers to place warning labels on mobile phones, and which will create a national research program that will look into health issues concerning mobile phones.

H.R. 6358, or the proposed Cell Phone Right to Know Act, will also require the Environmental Protection Agency to update the current mobile radiation standards. The current maximum for SAR — or specific absorption rate, the metric used to measure mobile phone radiation — is deemed too conservative. This then limits device manufacturers and equipment suppliers in terms of the design, power and service levels they can offer.

A federal report by the Government Accountability Office says that SAR limits will need to be revisited, which should ensure “proper balance between protecting the public from exposure to potentially harmful RF energy and allowing industry to provide telecommunications services to the public in the most efficient and practical manner possible.”

The proposed law, introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), will also require device manufacturers to add warning labels on devices — somewhat like the labels found on cigarette packaging. The existing rules on SAR and labeling are quite dated, and are based on research dating back to 1991. Back then, of course, mobile devices were designed differently, and networks used different mobile standards (AMPS, anyone?). With the fast pace of network development and with the increased data throughput that networks can support, perhaps radiation standards need a revisiting.

The basic precept of the bill is information. “As long as cell phone users may be at increased risk of cancer or reproductive problems, Americans must have the right to know the radiation levels of cell phones,” says Kucinich.

Of course, there are arguments against the harmful effects of cellphone radiation. After all, even our microwave ovens and CRT screens give off more radiation than mobile devices. And then there’s the non-concentric design of mobile antennas, which are designed to radiate the signal in an expanded, rather than focused, manner.

While the issue on radiation is still being debated, the kind Congressman says labels will help consumers choose mobile phones based on their radiation levels — sort of like choosing a car based on emission standards and mileage. “While we wait for scientists to sort out the health effects of cell phone radiation, we must allow consumers to have enough information to choose a phone with less radiation,” Kucinich said.

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Concerned at Radiation, Ministry Asks DoT Not to Allow Overlapping Mobile Towers

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Pitching in on the current debate on the possible danger of cellphone radiation, the Environment Ministry says a review of available scientific information by its panel of experts shows that “electromagnetic radiations interfere with the biological systems.” Accordingly, it has asked the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) not to allow new mobile towers to be constructed within a one-kilometre radius of the existing towers.

The advisory was issued by the Ministry after it received the report of an expert committee set up two years ago to study the possible impacts of the half a million strong network of communication towers on wildlife, including birds and bees. There has been widespread concern that radiation from such towers is responsible for the declining population of birds such as sparrows, and bees which are vital for the pollination of many plant species and hence a key part of both agricultural economy and natural ecosystems.

This has been paralleled by unease among some urban residents over the effect of mobile tower radiation in their own neighbourhoods, prompting the Prime Minister to set up a panel last month, mandated to work out a new set of guidelines to prevent the adverse impact of such radiation in tune with global norms. The DoT says there is not enough scientific proof that mobile towers are a threat to human health.

While the Ministry’s advisory is directed towards the Central and State agencies and local bodies, the Ministry has special advice for the DoT.

“To prevent overlapping of high radiation fields, new towers should not be permitted within a radius of one kilometre of the existing towers. Sharing of passive infrastructure if made mandatory for Telecom Service Providers can minimise need of having additional towers,” it said.

Precautions should also be taken to ensure that any new towers do not obstruct the flight path of birds, or increase the combined radiation of all towers in the area.

The location and frequency of all towers should be put in the public domain, with GIS mapping to help monitor the population of birds and bees or the welfare of animals in protected wildlife areas.

The Forest Department must be consulted before any towers are installed near zoos or any wildlife protected zones.

The Indian standard on safe limits of exposure must be urgently refined, added the Ministry.

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New Steps to Control Mobile Towers in Wildlife Zones

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Now, telecom operators will have to take welfare of wildlife into account while installing mobile phone towers.

The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) does not want operators to install mobile phone towers in wildlife areas without carrying out a proper ecological impact assessment.

The ministry also wants the government to make public the data on electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) so that people can understand its impact.

HT had in July highlighted adverse impacts of cellphone tower radiation on human health, a claim vehemently denied by Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). Taking a safe agenda forward, the ministry sent an advisory to all state governments and the telecom ministry asking to enforce a new set of regulations.

Studies reviewed by the ministry had shown decline of up to 70% in population of honey bees close to towers and falling population of birds, especially sparrows, in cities. The ministry had found that radiation from mobile towers was obstructing flight path of birds too.

“Before according permission for construction of towers ecological impact study and review of installation of sites will be essential in wildlife or ecologically-important areas,” MoEF said in an advisory to states and the telecom ministry.

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Congressman Calls For Federal Cell Phone Radiation Warnings

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Your next cell phone and a carton of smokes may soon have something in common: a cancer warning. That is if Ohio democrat and former presidential hopeful Congressman Dennis Kucinich has his way.
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The congressman today introduces a bill in the House that would require all new cell phones to come with warning labels detailing their radiation output.

Called the Cell Phone Right to Know Act, the bill would also establish a national research program to study cell phones and health and update the specific absorption rate (SAR) standard.

The SAR is the amount of electromagnetic radiation it emits. Kucinich says that standard is outdated and should be brought up-to-date with new research.

“It took decades for scientists to be able to say for sure that smoking caused cancer. While we wait for scientists to sort out the health effects of cell phone radiation, we must allow consumers to have enough information to choose a phone with less radiation,” said Kucinich. “As long as cell phone users may be at increased risk of cancer or reproductive problems, Americans must have the right to know the radiation levels of cell phones.”

In a statement, Kucinich pointed to the World Health Organization’s decision to classify cell phones as possible carcinogens for humans, right next to lead and mercury.

Whether spending an hour taking on your phone is the same as smoking a pack a day, however, remains to be seen. Various studies on the topic have turned up a wide variety of conclusions. Part of the reason is that some of those studies have been funded by the very companies that would be most hurt by a cell phone radiation warning, the wireless industry. Which is why Kucinich says the research organization proposed in his bill would be a government, rather than privately, funded endeavor.

The bill does have its detractors, though. Specifically, the wireless group CTIA, which, as CNET points out , is currently suing the city of San Francisco over a similar law. That suit is set to go to a federal appeals court this week.

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Cell Phones : Do They Affect Your Health?

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A large number of people today, carry more than one cellphone. Know about the radiation effect from a mobile and its implication on health issues.

By Mukul Saxena 28 Aug 2012

The last few decades have witnessed an exponential rise in the number of cell phone users. Remember the old days when getting a single landline number used to be an achievement? Today, a large number of people are carrying more than one mobile in their pockets. There has been occasional outcry about the harmful effect of radiation that may be associated with use of cellphones.

It is in this context, it would be helpful to understand the radiation effect from a mobile and its implication on health issues. Firstly, the radiation that is emitted is in category of low Radiofrequency. The radiation that is known to cause ill effects is ionising radiation as found in X Rays. Cancer is believed to be caused by factors that affect DNA changes. Most of the Research work done so far fails to associate radiofrequency emission from mobiles with development of cancer.

However, it is advised that patients with certain implants and devices like pacemakers might face some effects due to electromagnetic interference. It is advised that patients on pacemakers hold the mobile on the ear opposite to the implant. It is also advised that they should not carry a turned on mobile close to implant i.e. a shirt or jacket pocket. Use of hands free would also be helpful, if mobile is kept in trouser pocket.

Although, the scientific evidence available today does not associate significant health risks, it must be noted that the studies conducted have been based on limited usage of cellphones. Hence it is recommended that following safety measures be taken to guard against unforeseen risks :
If continuous usage is expected it is better to use hands free and keep cell phones away from ears. This is more important in case of usage of cell phone by children.

In case any device like pacemaker is used, it is advisable not to keep the cell phones in shirt pocket.
It goes without saying, that use of cell phone while driving needs to be discouraged, since it is not only a question of hands being busy, but also distraction which may cause accidents.

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Kucinich Wants Radiation Warnings on Cell phones

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Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) wants warning labels stamped on cellphone packaging in the same way cigarette companies must place warning labels on cigarette containers.

Kucinich on Friday introduced the Cell Phone Right To Know Act, which would require labels to be put on cellphones warning of the radiation levels emitted by the devices.

Earlier this year, a federal court stuck down a similar rule enacted in San Francisco.
But Kucinich argues that it took decades for scientists to conclude that smoking caused cancer, and he says consumers should get more information now on the possible ill effects of cellphones.

“While we wait for scientists to sort out the health effects of cell phone radiation, we must allow consumers to have enough information to choose a phone with less radiation,” Kucinich said in a statement on Monday. “As long as cell phone users may be at increased risk of cancer or reproductive problems, Americans must have the right to know the radiation levels of cell phones.”

A wireless trade group, CTIA, sued San Francisco last year when the city tried to require warnings on cellphones about radiation risks. A federal court sided with CTIA and blocked the warnings.

A federal appeals court is supposed to rule on the case this week, according to Kucinich’s office.

Kucinich’s bill would also create a research program to study cellphones and would require the EPA to update the Specific Absorption Rate, which is the amount of radiation absorbed in the body when using a cellphone.

Kucinich argues that the current rate is outdated due to recent updates in cellphone technology, including Wi-Fi. The current allowed level of radiation is 1.6 watts per kilogram.

Kucinich’s bill follows an announcement by the FCC in June that it would conduct its own inquiry into the levels of radiation cellphones should be allowed to emit. The FCC last updated its guidelines in 1996.

Recent studies have indicated that radiation from cellphones could increase the risk of cancer, lower bone density or alter brain activity. Numerous other studies have found no harm.
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Radiation Hits Delhi Government

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The hazards posed by radiation emitted by cell phone towers has caught the attention of Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit who convened a meeting on Wednesday to chalk out an action plan. All three municipal corporations, environment department, Delhi chief secretary and health department officials were present in the meeting.

Sources said that a private company presented a proposal in which a small antenna can be mounted on an electric pole, which will be connected with optical fibre cables to a cell phone tower. The company claimed that their product will reduce the radiation level from cell phone towers.

In the meeting, Dikshit said that the issue has to be addressed by all agencies as it concerns the common people. But a Delhi government official said that cell phone towers fall under the subject list of the department of telecommunication in the Union telecom ministry and any policy decision about limiting radiation levels has to be approved by them.

“People are concerned about the health hazards cell phone towers pose. At our level, we can only make the citizens aware of the technology available which can reduce the impact. However, issues such as the financial aspect have to be taken into consideration as it may increase call rates too. We will send these suggestions to the Centre which has to take the final call on it,” said a senior Delhi government official.

When quizzed over illegal cell phone towers that have still not been removed by civic agencies, Delhi government officials said that civic agencies can seal them.

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