Medescape

Skepticism, Medicine and Science News

Going to Mars

One of the biggest problems with sending people to Mars is the radiation from the sun and cosmic rays. Cosmic rays consist mainly of highly energized protons capable of ionizing molecules such as DNA (which would be bad), causing cancer, neurological disorders etc. Solar flares are generally the main concern since they generate a huge amount of electromagnetic radiation and energized protons, and if a spacecraft travelling to the moon or mars were hit by one the effects would be really bad. Going to the moon doesn’t take that long, so if you plan ahead you can minimize the risks, but going to Mars would take a lot longer, so the astronauts would be exposed to large amounts of cosmic radiation and inevitably also solar flares. So, finding a way to shield the craft is one of the main challenges in putting humans on Mars, and recent research may have found a feasible way to do this.

The earth is protected from cosmic radiation by the magnetosphere, and the idea of generating a mini-magnetosphere around the ship has been around since the 1960s. It was, however, thought that this “magnetic bubble” would have to be more than 100km wide to have any real effect, but new computer simulations showed that a smaller bubble might in fact be adequate. A lab in the UK recently confirmed these findings my replecating a mini-solar wind with equipment used in fusion research, showing that the magnetic bubble might only need to be a few hundred meters wide. 

Image of a typical solar flare from the sun (Credit: NASA)

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November 9, 2008 - Posted by | Astronomy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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