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The Effects of Radiation on Electronics - Windows to the Universe

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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
As a radiation particle blasts through an electronic circuit, it leaves behind a trail of ions. The ions disrupt the flow of electricity in the circuit, causing the circuit to malfunction.
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Original artwork by Windows to the Universe staff.

The Effects of Radiation on Electronics

Radiation can damage electronic circuits and it can cause electronics to malfunction.

Radiation can degrade the semiconductor materials used in electronics, reducing the useful lifetime of the electronics. For instance, solar panels used on spacecraft gradually become less efficient after prolonged radiation exposure in space.

Radiation can also disrupt the flow of electricity in electronic circuits. This can cause "phantom commands" to be issued or can alter the contents of a computer's memory circuits.

The effect of radiation on electronics is a special concern in spacecraft operations. Spacecraft use electronics extensively and are exposed to higher doses of radiation than is most Earth-bound machinery.

Last modified July 14, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF