Cosmic Rays & Random Crashes: A Scientific Take

Explore the science behind random system crashes. A helpdesk tale dives into NASA research on cosmic rays and high-energy neutrinos affecting tech.

If you’ve ever worked a helpdesk you’ve probably encountered that one person who has to have an answer to some random crash. Sure you could dig and dig and might find the point of corruption but not the why, plus who wants to spend that much time?

This happened to me when I was working for a company that provided software and hardware support for veterinary clinics. A doctor at one practice had to have a specific reason for a system crash, after digging through system logs and running diagnostics on the machine we were no closer to having an answer, but he had to have an answer.

Getting creative I remembered the hardening that had to be done on some of my equipment back in the Navy and the different circumstances that would cause a fault, one of those being high energy radiation or particles, cosmic rays, gamma rays, emp, etc…

So I went searching for articles related to that and found one from NASA JPL that described aircraft and spacecraft being affected by high-energy neutrinos at altitude. These rare events cause single event upsets(or bit flips) that could have the potential to cause corruption in critical parts of the computer systems.

Bringing this explanation for a random blue screen didn’t go over well, and I was berated for my trouble until I provided a link to the article.

While I couldn’t find the original article here is a link to a NASA page on the subject. So remember, if you ever run into a client like that neutrinos are your friend.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.