Two women sitting on a bench look at their mobile phones in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on October 31, 2020. (AFP / Mladen Antonov)

Old hoax circulates on Thai social media warning people to turn off mobile phones due to harmful cosmic rays passing Earth

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A warning has been shared repeatedly in Facebook, Twitter and Line posts that urge people to turn off their mobile phones because “dangerous cosmic rays will pass by earth.” The claim is false; a Thai expert told AFP that the warning is “fake news” based on “pseudoscience” and international atmospheric agencies maintain that cosmic rays pose little to no threat to life on Earth.

The warning was published on Facebook here on March 3, 2021. The post includes a screenshot of the warning shared on the Line chat application.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, taken on March 11, 2021

The Thai-language message reads: “Tonight at 00:30 to 03:30 am don’t forget to turn off your phone, mobile, tablets and etc. and place them far away from your body. Singapore TV announced this news. Please tell your family and friends. Tonight from 12:30 a.m. until 3:30 a.m. our planet will emit a very high radiation. Cosmic rays will pass close to Earth, therefore please turn off your mobile phones, don’t leave your device close to your body, as it can cause you terrible bodily harm! If you don’t believe, check Google and NASA BBC News. Send this message to people that you love.”

The same claim was shared on Facebook in Thai here, here and here; and in English here, here and here. It was also shared on Twitter here in 2010.

The claim, however, is false.

Supalerk Karuehanon, who heads the Astronomical Academic Services Division of the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, said that the warning message is “fake news”.

“Although the warning contains scientific terms, they are used in a manner that lacks an understanding of the scientific principles,” he told AFP by phone on March 11, 2021. “This is essentially what you would call pseudoscience.”

Supalerk explains that “cosmic rays, which are emitted from the sun or from cosmic events outside our solar system such as black holes or a supernova, can affect electronic devices such as computer chips on satellites. However this doesn’t mean the rays will affect our bodies in the same way.”

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) adds here that cosmic rays are “high energy particles that move through space at nearly the speed of light”.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also stated here that cosmic rays  pose “little threat to humans and systems” on Earth.

The European Space Agency explains further here: “Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us from the constant bombardment of galactic cosmic rays”.