Cosmic Death Rays with Dr. Carolina Zilli Vieira

“Looking at data over the past 60 years, the team found that the mortality rates for all diseases they identified were slightly — yet significantly — greater during periods of diminished solar activity, when cosmic rays are more intense, and slightly lower during heightened solar activity, when cosmic rays are less intense.”


I don’t know much about astrology or too much about the world of celestial processions but I know that a deep line has been drawn in the sand between those who maintain a belief that we are susceptible to certain cosmic happenstance versus those who consider it all to be no more than spacey hokum. 

Zodiac signs, retrogrades, birth charts — they’ve all been branded as pseudo-spiritual guesswork that has largely been relegated to novelty more than it has fact. While I myself have never read too much into these methods of interpretation, I’ve come to discover a rather powerful common denominator that runs through astrology as it does astronomy, through spirituality as much as it does through science. 

For my perspective to be properly elucidated, I have to first start with the reality that we find ourselves in —  a reality on the most macroscopic of scales.

Redshifting Perspective

We have to realize where we are and, though we have no idea where we’re going, it behooves us to understand how we’re getting there.

We’re not simply situated on a blue marble that happens to be orbiting a ball of life-granting fire in the cosmic blackness of space. No, we’re moving — corkscrewing our way through a universe that we barely understand (let alone know the true shape of). 

We on earth, as well as our fellow planets, along with our neighbor solar systems and galaxies and nebulae — we’re all moving somewhere through space (and time), and this movement should be fervently appreciated even if it can’t be understood.

Think of this way: growing up, I had always looked forward to the annual meteor showers that would come around like clockwork to dazzle us with shooting stars at the same times throughout the seasons. It never occurred to me that it is not necessarily the asteroid showers that visit earth as much as it is earth that moves regularly through asteroid belts, causing this scintillating display.

Our planet is but a cog in an indescribable machine that, in itself, is a cog in an even bigger machine. Perhaps not even a machine at all — maybe ocean foam or pollen or sparks of something we can’t understand. 

Some figures might put things into perspective:

Earth moves through space at 67,000 miles per hour. Note that this isn’t the spin of the earth (which is 1000 miles per hour), this is how fast it travels through space. 

The solar system, in which we find ourselves in, travels through space at an average rate 515,000 miles per hour (at this rate, it would take 230 million years for it to travel around the Milky Way in its entirety, but I digress). 

Logic would dictate that our galaxy travels faster yet — and, sure enough, we’ve calculated that our galaxy is moving through the universe at a rate of over 1.3 million miles per hour. We can begin to see the picture at hand.

Our planet, solar system, and galaxy all travel at their respective speeds, all correlating their pace to their scale. 

So what does this mean exactly, and where do we go from here?

This is all to say that there are always bigger forces at play and there’s no reason to believe that one force cannot exert an influence on another force. That movement in itself contradicts any semblance of unvaried consistency and that we should expect a fluctuation of conditions based on external influences. 

Earth has its own set of convection currents and oceanic drifts and air streams that move at their average speeds; we ourselves move atop this planet at our own respective and definable paces. But everything is susceptible to that which is greater, only we can’t exactly bite into this idea because we have yet to really witness the kind of event that can shift everything — say a solar flare so powerful that it jostles our magnetic poles into a frenzy. We have seen how a straightforward volcano eruption can impact us so dramatically, likewise with an unprecedented contagion. 

Simply because we can calculate gravity and classify some forces of nature, it doesn’t mean that we have a thorough understanding of all the inter-related elements that contribute to the vast chain of cause and effect that exists on a macro scale as much as it does on a micro-scale; how cosmic rays or effusions can intensify (or weaken) and how these intensities can alter our conditions to some immeasurable extent or another. 

We have barely an understanding of how a solar flare electromagnetically affects us, and we can actually see and measure this phenomenon playing out — what if the substantial vastness of dark matter and dark energy (that which we’ve only labeled without a proper understanding as to its proper function and/or composition) is the medium through which significant other effects can be conveyed, effects that may take lifetimes to unfold, let alone realize? 

Perspective, ironically enough, can serve to blind us as much as it can prompt us to see.

Radiant Relationships

Water is life here, and multiple studies have been completed to signify that water’s composition can, in fact, be altered in ways we’ve previously thought impossible or laughable. 

This goes well beyond Dr. Masaru Emoto’s contention that human consciousness can affect the molecular structure of water — we have studied the nuclear reactions of cosmic rays in water, finding a correlation to exist between the production of cosmogenic nuclides and the variation of cosmic ray intensity. We know that cosmic rays can penetrate through hundreds of meters of water and that such rays are capable of seeding clouds with their radiation bursts, ultimately affecting weather conditions and possibly even climate change in the long term. 

“Scientists from the Technical University of Denmark suggest that their experiments show varying radiation from the Sun and other supernovae could lead to variations on our weather.” 

— David Nield

So why not us? We’re mostly water too. 

Water provides the context for somewhat of a digestible example here if we assume it possible that some sort of cosmic effusion, ultimately immeasurable, can influence the microscopic structure of water, or maybe even just hydrogen, temporally or not. 

After all, we know that our sun’s own coronal flare emissions correlate to heart palpitations and that there exist other sure links between our physiology and our cosmology:

“Overall, this study strongly confirms that daily ANS (Automatic Nervous System) activity, as reflected by HRV (heart rate variability) measures, responds to changes in geomagnetic and solar activity primarily during periods undisturbed by solar activity… 

Solar wind was negatively correlated with IBIs [inter-beat intervals] indicating that heart rate increases with increases in solar wind that suggests a physiological stress reaction occurred. 

It appears that increased cosmic rays, solar radio flux, and Schumann resonance power are all associated with increased HRV and increased parasympathetic activity, and the ANS responds quickly to changes in these environmental factors.” 

— Abdullah Alabdulgader et. al. 

Water is but only one medium that has demonstrated the effect of cosmic radiation. What of magnetism? As many have contended throughout history, everything has a magnetic field that is susceptible to greater fields of influence. Magnetars, a rare type of neutron star with a magnetic field trillions of times stronger than that of Earths, would dissolve any unfortunate human body that strayed too close. 

Perhaps the true threat that our earth faces is not to be found in an asteroid or in a solar flare but, maybe, the passing of our solar system through an intense belt of magnetic radiation. Maybe this needn’t even be a threat — maybe some increased magnetism could help (or has previously helped — as some more quirky historical scholars maintain) life thrive at points throughout the existence of our civilization. 

So we know that we are, in fact, susceptible to cosmic influences of some sort. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that planetary alignment is responsible for variable forms of cause-and-effect (for all we know, it may very well be) or that we can effectively understand these effects by looking to Zodiac charts or moon cycles (for all we know, maybe there is merit to be found), it does mean that we should not assume ourselves to be free from any cosmic influence at any given time. 

So what?

This is all to point to a rather frustrating but liberating fact: we don’t know that much. 

Our situation is akin to that of a microbe living on the surface of a piece of algae that itself exists on the underside of a minuscule aquatic plant which inhabits a small pond— wholly unaware of the seasons or of the true enormity of the landscape which it inhabits. 

Maybe a bit dramatic, but who’s to say we can really know anything if we can’t hear and see most of what’s going on around us; if we can’t comprehend the shape of our universe or what lays outside of it’s intangible walls.

A testament to the old adage: the more we learn, the less we know. 

And while this doesn’t really help anybody or mean anything, it ought to afford us a small sigh of relief as we’ve become so caught up in searching for answers and trying to understand and dissect and extract and calculate everything there is to know about anything we can get our hands on.

Our curiosity is necessary and vital, but sometimes a step back to appreciate the mystery of the world around us is just as important. 

Conceded Caveat

But, of course, we’re more than a simple microbe. We’re driven by our curiosity and our imagination and we have the thought-processes to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the organisms that surround us. 

This thirst for knowledge and hunger for progress will always drive us ahead. Knowing that most readers are not content with simply appreciating the mysteries of life, please find a brief Q&A below with Carolina Zilli Vieira  — the author of the study mentioned in the preamble of this post, regarding how the universe is really trying to kill us.

Your study analyzed the correlation between the intensity of Galactic Cosmic Rays and mortality rates in Sao Paulo between 1951–2012, finding that the ionization (effectuated by the cosmic rays) had ‘significantly correlated’ to mortality rates, noting that the underlying mechanisms are still unclear. I can’t help but ask: what is your best guess to explain this occurrence or to explain one of the underlying biophysical mechanisms at play? Have you come across any particular theories that had stood out to you?

C.Z.V: Our findings in Brazil suggested that secondary products of galactic cosmic rays (GCR) at the ground level were associated with mortality rates from 1951 to 2012. The mechanisms related to these associations may be explained by the energy transfer of GCR-muons and neutrons to biological tissues, causing muon-induced cell mutations through direct DNA damage and/or more likely by indirectly generating oxidative radicals (such as the hydroxyl radical OH∙ or the oxygen radicals O2∙/HO2∙) that can induce DNA damage. 

The DNA damage can modify the gene expression and transcriptional networks, producing inappropriate epigenetic imprint characterized by a higher individual predisposition to aging and/or diseases, and even to premature death linked to GCR over generations. 

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that the long-term exposures to GCR over generations may naturally drive epigenetic mutations that promote slow evolutionary processes of all species, including humans.

Also, our recent studies show that these effects may vary according to the location (latitude and altitude), which will allow us to understand demographic characteristics.

Have you yet had a chance to try (or know of anyone who has tried) to repeat this investigation in a different part of the world?

C.Z.V: Yes, we are comparing the effects between hemispheres (Northern and Sourthen).

Are you aware of any other ways by which GCRs can be modulated/intensified apart from only solar activity and/or geomagnetic field distribution or does this seem to be the limit of our current understanding at the present?

C.Z.V: Yes, galactic cosmic rays are modulated by the solar activity (especially by the interplanetary magnetic field) and by the Earth’s magnetic field.  However, the Earth’s magnetic field intensity has different pattern all over the world, which affect the intensity and energy of secondary products of GCR at the ground level.

These differences of geomagnetic field intensity among places may present different health outcomes.  We have confirmed that in our studies. 

Earth's magnetic fields seem to always be in flux, to some capacity, and if they were to ever be compromised in some unfathomable way, we may be in for a cosmic-ray storm that can prove considerably detrimental to our health.

Does this seem at all probable to you or is it something more reserved for, say, sci-fi and fiction?

C.Z.V: This is not sci-fi and fiction, this is quite real.  Although it seems our bodies and everything around us are made of strong and real matter, all of this condensed ‘matter’ is made of atoms that are pure energy with particular frequencies.  Our studies have found that our physiology and behavior are highly sensitive to exposures to natural solar activity-driven magnetic and electromagnetic radiation.

Carolina Zilli Vieira is a Research Associate at the Harvard School for Public Health. Read her full study here

Image by Pete Linforth