An alarming warning prompts cell phone users to turn their phones off due to an expected influx of cosmic rays from Mars “tonight.” Is this rumor true or false?
It’s a hoax.
This rumor has been going around – virtually unchanged – for many years via email, text messaging, and social media. Below is a text message of the first version sent to us in late 2012:
During 12:30 to 3:30 am, pls turn off ur cell phones, Cosmic Rays are entering the earth from Mars. Keep it away from u during this period, and especially dont put it under ur pillow. Msg from Nasas, u can check google if u want.
Although we first received this message in 2012, it had already been making its round for several yeras, as seen in this 2008 blog post. It has continued to resurface several times a year ever since. One of the original versions of the warning read:
Tonight by 12.30 am cosmic rays from Mars enter into our atmosphere. You are requested to SWITCH OFF your mobile during that time .This is a request by NASA through BBC . Pls Forward it to all.
In 2012 the warning was circulated as an April Fool’s joke by some social media users, but it quickly shed its “joke” status and became a full-blown hoax that same month. While it was probably humorous on April 1, by April 4 this “news” was being circulated without the obligatory “April Fools” at the end.
Despite dismissals of the rumor by many bloggers in early 2012, the warning surfaced again in August 2012, prompting bloggers to try in earnest to debunk the rumor. We have seen this rumor resurface approximately every 4 months from mid-2012 to January 2016.
Below are several considerations worth noting in the evaluation of the warning above.
- Planets do not emit cosmic rays. The website for the Goddard Space Flight Center states, “Most galactic cosmic rays are probably accelerated in the blast waves of supernova remnants.”
- Some writers have suggested that Mars could reflect cosmic rays, but even if that is true, it would certainly not be with any significant intensity, or produce surges in the manner described.
- Our atmosphere protects against most cosmic rays.
- The only likely effect of cosmic rays on cell phones would be related to satellite communication, as satellites are more affected by cosmic rays without the earth’s protective atmosphere.
- There is no evidence that cell phone batteries on earth are affected by cosmic rays.
- Pierre Auger Observatory discusses the origin of cosmic rays, noting, “Lower-energy cosmic ray particles that strike the earth come from within our own Milky Way Galaxy. They may originate, directly or indirectly, from the supernova icon info explosions that mark the deaths of many stars.”
In 2013, the BBC reported that “Exploded stars may account for most of the cosmic rays that are produced in our Milky Way Galaxy.”
National Geographic reported in July 2014 that an area of the sky in the vicinity of the Big Dipper was reported to be a “hotspot” source of cosmic rays.
A cell phone app was announced in late 2014 that could transform your Android phone into a crude cosmic ray particle detector.
Dr. Tony Padilla discusses the origin of cosmic rays in this video from 2013, in which the origin is believed to be supernovae.
The Google Trends chart shows some of the more significant surges in interest for “cosmic rays from Mars.” As you can see, a significant peak occurred in September 2014. Minor resurgences included December 2014 and February 2015. Although the chart shows minimal activity in early 2016, we have seen a surge in interest in this article.
There is no scientific basis for the claim that cell phones are affected by cosmic rays from Mars. This rumor has been circulating for years, but the dire warning is not echoed by reputable media or scientific sources. Moreover, the BBC and NASA have made no such announcements regarding cosmic rays and cell phones. Finally, cosmic rays do not come from planets.
Updated January 10, 2016
First published September 2012