With all the hoopla about rampant rigging in elections worldwide and accusations of phony votes being given to candidates, almost every other country has started the blame game of accusing each other or Russia for the disorder. However, according to scientists, in certain rigging cases the glitches may be coming from outer space! No, we are not talking about aliens interfering in the 2016 elections.
Scientists at the annual meeting of American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences in Boston discussed last week that high-energy particles originating from our galaxy and even Sun could be behind the glitches. Reports state that these particles, particularly neutrons, can interact with the semiconductors powering computer chips and cause an assortment of glitches in all of our electronics.
This kind of particle interactions have reportedly been an aviation issue for many decades, however, there have been concerns over the recent years about its effect on cell phones, electronic cars and even voting machines. Cosmic rays emanating from the galaxy could result in a malfunctioning of these devices. Considering this, consumer electronics companies are now trying to manufacture their devices to be more hardy against every day cosmic rays, and bigger space weather events like solar storms.
"Apparently there were 3 million [illegal] votes in our last election. It must have been solar flares," joked Bharat Bhuva, professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University during a talk at AAAS, Gizmodo reports.
We are not propagating this theory, Bhuva's statements were obviously a joke made on United States President Donald Trump's accusation that millions of illegal votes were cast during the 2016 elections. It is highly unlikely that solar flares would result in millions of votes in favour of either of the candidates. However, the detrimental effect of high-energy neutrons on our electronics is not a joke, and is very much real.
The malfunctioning in our devices can occur when the neutrons from space weather's constant barrage collide with silicon in our microchips. They can produce secondary charged particles, causing voltage in transistors and glitches in the devices, so-called 'single event upsets.'
Bhuva, during the annual event, said that scientists know the effect of neutrons on our devices. However, if a glitch is caused to a device every other possibility is ruled out first before considering if space weather caused the particular malfunction.
Reports state that our daily neutron showers can produce both soft errors and hard errors on a computer, which can be fixed through a reboot of the system. However, Bhuva brought up a past analysis which noted that one such cosmic ray event could have caused a massive glitch of 4,096 incorrect votes in a 2003 Belgian elections.
The professor said that these neutrons from space cannot be blocked as such an effort would require several feet of concrete. However, he said that the effect of neutrons on the devices can be lessened by building redundancies into devices.
"NASA puts three copies of everything on all of their spaceships," explained Jonathan Pellish, aerospace engineer from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. "On all the Apollo missions, we had three computers doing the same thing every second," Pellish said since the odds of two issues occurring in two chips simultaneously are very low.
"You don't want to protect everything," Christopher Frost, a scientist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), told Gizmodo. "You want to hone in on the problematic bits. If a smartphone fails once, it's irritating. However, the real aim is to restructure to prevent systemic failures in the devices," he added.