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Space Science

Solar Flares Shield Astronauts from Cosmic Rays 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-so-fantastic-four dept.
It doesn't come easy writes "Considering all of the research into better shielding for astronauts, it's interesting to note that solar flares can help shield space travelers from dangerous cosmic rays. From the article: "The crew of the ISS absorbed about 30% fewer cosmic rays than usual [during this last month of high solar activity]," says Frank Cucinotta, NASA's chief radiation health officer at the Johnson Space Center. "The storms actually improved the radiation environment inside the station." Scientists have long known about this phenomenon. It's called a "Forbush decrease," after American physicist Scott E. Forbush, who studied cosmic rays in the 1930s and 40s. So, I guess it would be safer to plan a manned Mars mission to coincide with peak sunspot activity?"
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Solar Flares Shield Astronauts from Cosmic Rays

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  • by aussie_a (778472) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @08:41PM (#13778193) Journal
    If I'm understanding this right, the magnetic properties of the solar flare cause the decrease in CME's? If so, couldn't ships magnetize their hull to shield the people inside? It obviously won't stop all the CME's, but it will decrease it.

    Might turn out Enterprise's "ionize the hull" isn't as much sci-fi nonesense as it first sounds.
  • by Bananatree3 (872975) * on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @08:46PM (#13778229)
    "So, I guess it would be safer to plan a manned Mars mission to coincide with peak sunspot activity?"

    Well, that could be a logical conclusion from the article. BUT, what also occurs during major sunspot activity?. Mondo solar flares! Yes, they may help suppress the Cosmic Radiation. But, I sure wouldn't want to be stuck somewheres in the vast space between Mars and Earth with one of these monsters heading for me. The spaceship would be hit like a rowboat in a hurricane, in terms of solar radiation.

  • by Pottsynz (756353) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @08:47PM (#13778240) Journal
    Hence its hardly a perfect testbed for radiation effects regarding long-term space flights. You have to wonder if the factored in the change solar activity makes to the earth's magnetic field when putting this all together.
  • 1/r^2 kills this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @09:11PM (#13778360)
    The Sun's magnetic field [astronomycafe.net] may be very weak (about 5 Gauss at the surface, about 0.00005 Gauss in solar wind), but it's very big. Creating a field with a compact object (say 100 meters in diameter -- quite a large space craft!) that creates a 0.00005 Gauss field at a distance of 160 million kilometers would require a field strength on the order of about 1.28 x 10^18 Gauss. This is NOT compatible with living things. Fields stronger than 100,000 Gauss can levitate living things [science.ru.nl]. I suspect that the needed deflector field would strip the electrons off the spacecraft's atoms (even a 200,000 gauss magnets have a tendency to explode).

    Even if I'm off by many orders of magnitude (IANAP), the required field strength will be unattainably high.

  • by imikem (767509) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @10:07PM (#13778641) Homepage
    Coronal mass ejections send huge numbers of high energy protons into space. These are far more easily shielded by standard spacecraft construction techniques than cosmic/gamma rays. No contest between which scenario is more dangerous. The main danger during CMEs is to EVA (spacewalks), since the pressure suits are not easily shielded to a sufficient degree.
  • by SwedeGeek (545209) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @10:14PM (#13778673) Homepage Journal
    <whine>
    Well, at least your karma didn't spanked for it like mine did... :(
    </whine>

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