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Space Science

Star Trek Shields Now a Possibility? 220

An anonymous reader writes "British scientists have announced their intent to build a Star Trek-style magnetic shielding system to help protect astronauts from radiation. 'There are a variety of risks facing future space explorers, not least of which is the cancer-causing radiation encountered when missions venture beyond the protective magnetic envelope, or magnetosphere, which shields the Earth against these energetic particles. The Earth's magnetosphere deflects many of these particles; others are largely absorbed by the atmosphere.'"
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Star Trek Shields Now a Possibility?

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  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cpt_Kirks (37296) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:14PM (#18787367)
    This is damn peculiar...

    (I really should have raised them)

  • by soft_guy (534437) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:14PM (#18787379)
    Maybe with this kind of a shielding system we might be able to put a man on the moon for real.
  • Alas (Score:5, Funny)

    by rlp (11898) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:14PM (#18787381)
    They'll probably need to leave them turned on at all times, so no one will get to say "Shields Up!".
    • Thats OK. (Score:5, Funny)

      by pavon (30274) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:41PM (#18787773)
      As long as they can redirect primary power from the sheild to the deflector dish, I will be happy. They will have a deflector dish right? ... Right?
      • By re-routing power from auxiliary nacels, cutting life-support from the lower decks, and turning off the holo-deck, they might just be able to reverse polarity by de-coupling the anti-matter containment field to properly reconfigure a photon torpedo to the borg frequency. Thus, Tea, earl grey, WILL... be hot.
      • I think this is what the deflector dish is supposed to do.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Well, they could have them down while in parking orbit around earth... So you would still get to say "Shields UP" when starting yoru journey.
  • Astronauts, you say ? I can definitely see many applications right below the magnetosphere. Tired of the wife, kids, mortgage, urban stress and immune to http://www.davesdaily.com/pictures/302-fukitol.htm [davesdaily.com] ? Energize !
  • by RedElf (249078) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:19PM (#18787445) Homepage
    Once again, the movies/tv shows have lead the way to developing new technology!
    • cough (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fyngyrz (762201) *

      Once again, the movies/tv shows have lead the way to developing new technology!

      No. Once again, science fiction writers far predating TV shows and movies such as EE "Doc" Smith and his many predecessors, peers and those that followed led the way, and TV lamely followed. But that's OK. You go back to watching TV. Books might make your head hurt. Full of words, they are. Very annoying. And that whole "theater of the mind" thing... I mean, what if you blow a projector bulb in your cerebrum?

    • by drsquare (530038)
      They didn't lead the way. Unless the Star Trek scripts contain actual blueprints for these. Anyone can 'invent' something on TV. Maybe I should write a TV show involving a viable fusion reactor, then take credit for it when it's actually invented. Of course my 'reactor' is just a microwave painted silver with a radiation sign on the frong, but I'm a pioneer!
  • Misleading Title (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PixieDust (971386) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:19PM (#18787447)
    These aren't Star Trek shields. They ONLY protect against a few types of radiation. Basically do the same thing as the Earth's Magnetosphere. Too bad. It'd be really cool to run around in something with shields up, see an occasional flare up when something hits it.

    Course, it wouldn't be long before Jack-Ass had shields around someone's nether regions, and shot it with a gun.

    • Re:Misleading Title (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cpt_Kirks (37296) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:37PM (#18787697)
      Yeah, these would be more in line with the field produced by the deflector dish up front. It is supposed to push particles out of the way at high relativistic speeds.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by zippthorne (748122)
      Indeed, if by "a few types of radiation" you mean, "no types of radiation at all." since a spacecraft megnetosphere only affects charged particles and plasmas. And doesn't technically deflect anything away, but instead traps stuff. causing the particles to precipitate at specific locations (which can be more heavily shielded) at the poles.
      • Indeed, if by "a few types of radiation" you mean, "no types of radiation at all."

        Not correct: it will not work for neutral radiation (neutron and gamma) but will deflect charged particle radiation just fine.

        And doesn't technically deflect anything away, but instead traps stuff. causing the particles to precipitate at specific locations (which can be more heavily shielded) at the poles.

        It is a real shame that nobody thought to tell us physicists about this because we have been using magnetic fields
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rei (128717)
      Yeah, active shielding (what they're talking about here) is all nice and good (if you can actually get it to work light enough and with low enough power) against solar radiation, but it's pretty useless against GCR (galactic cosmic radiation). There's a lot less GCR than solar radiation, but still enough that you're going to want to be shielded from it on a Mars mission. Which means that you still need passive shielding. Using passive shielding raises a whole host of design problems when weight is a cons
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by aztektum (170569)
      Pf you obviously don't know what you're talking about. The point in Jackass is wacking someone in the junk WITHOUT protective gear. They would have no interest in this technology.
  • by LibertineR (591918) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:20PM (#18787453)
    Any fool knows that the shields used on Star Trek were about heat absorbtion from Phaser fire and Photon torpedoes, also Mass deflection (ala the Tractor Beam) against asteroids and your odd ship explosion. Of Course, the shields were modified over the years to deal with Temporal Incursions and the Genesis effect, but it would be wrong these shields as simular to Star Trek.

    I hope we have cleared that up, dammit.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tobenisstinky (853306)
      Hear, hear. At most call them "energy sheilds"
    • It is actually more akin to the deflector dish. It is what was responsible for deflecting small particles and the like from the path of the ship. At warp 10, even a single molecule would have the force to destroy the ship.
  • by ericdano (113424) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:23PM (#18787503) Homepage
    So does that mean when went sent people to space before, they got exposed to all kinds of particals and stuff? Are they still ok? If so, then do we really need this?

    Or....did we fake the moon stuff?

    "Denny CRANE"
  • by bcrowell (177657) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:26PM (#18787545) Homepage
    This was reported on slashdot three years ago [slashdot.org]. The space.com article linked to from the 2004 slashdot summary is actually much more detailed in terms of the science. The big engineering problems with this approach still have not been solved. (1) If you're not using superconducting magnet coils, a large, static magnetic field requires a huge power supply to keep it going. That's not practical for foreseeable, near-future technologies for going to Mars, which will need to use very small payloads. (2) Superconducting magnets are unreliable, finicky beasts, at least from my experience here on earth. You need big, heavy cryostats full of liquified gases. It's not necessarily a good idea to have a vital piece of safety equipment for your spaceship depend on an inherently high-maintenance, low-reliability technology. (3) Large electric fields are hard to maintain because you get arcing and discharges. I used to work at an electrostatic accelerator that used megavolt potentials, and it would start sparking at the most inopportune times, for reasons like, e.g., someone leaving behind a speck of lint inside the accelerator. When a spark would happen, you could hear it all through the building, and the energy released was equivalent to dropping a VW bug off the roof of a building. Again, low-reliability, high maintenance. (4) Although it's possible to use tricks to get rid of some of the particles, or channel particles to a place where they're not as harmful, you still have to deal with the fact that you have particles with both signs of charge, which feel forces in opposite directions from the same field. What repels one attracts the other. Also, if the particles get channeled to a certain place, and impact on something solid, then you get extremely intense secondary radiation at that spot.
    • by LibertineR (591918) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:35PM (#18787673)
      You need big, heavy cryostats full of liquified gases.

      No, no, no, dude.

      You only need bio-gel packs and iso-linear chips. But, only the green ones.

      If you use the red ones and get them mixed up, you'll need Data to save your ass.

      • by petrus4 (213815)
        I'm feeling an attack of autistic geek pedantry, here. Must...resist...

        Ok, so I can't. ;)

        You only need bio-gel packs and iso-linear chips. But, only the green ones.

        Neither of these two things would have anything to do with a forcefield, except maybe being responsible for turning it on and off. ;) These two things were responsible for powering computer systems...with the isolinear chips being the more primitive of the two, and the bio-gel packs replacing them.
  • Bees!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by owlnation (858981) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:28PM (#18787565)
    Can they be made really small?

    Won't anyone think of the bees?
  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:29PM (#18787589)
    there is a lab in the southwest (nevada i think) where they generate fields as strong as the earth's magnetic field (in otherwords, what theyre looking for here).

    the power consumption of the machine used is about the same as dayton ohio.

    good luck mounting that generator on your back.

    additionally, equating them to star trek shields is a bit of a stretch. it will block the same type of radiation the magnetosphere blocks, in other words, good luck deflecting lasers or solid matter. I get the feeling in order to do that you would have to make a shield with orders of magnitude more magnetic power, then for objects with mass engineer gravitic shielding a-la babylon 5.

    in other words, star trek style shields are, very optimistically, at least 250 years away, and more realistically 700 to 1000 years away, assuming we last that long as a species.
    • by pclminion (145572) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:54PM (#18787945)

      there is a lab in the southwest (nevada i think) where they generate fields as strong as the earth's magnetic field (in otherwords, what theyre looking for here).

      The Earth's magnetic field is wimpy. A refrigerator magnet produces a stronger field. The thing about Earth's field is that it is HUGE, spatially. So particles have a LOT of field to contend with on their way through the magnetosphere. Even though the field itself is incredibly weak.
      • So what you're saying is that our spaceships don't need a strong magnetic field... they need a really big magnetic field. Good info. So what we need is something that generates a large but relatively weak field and we're in business.

        Fluid Dynamos (which is what the earth uses for it's field) seem like a good candidate. [aps.org]

        • On the topic of MHDs [wikipedia.org], it appears that they can also produce energy.....

          Would be interesting to see a combination effort to create a Magnetohydrodynamics Generator to generate both electricity and a magnetic field. Power the ship and protect it from basic radiation and small particles at the same time.

  • Captain Kirk: Raise Shields!
    Mr. Spock: Captain, may I remind you that these new shields developed by British scientists rely on Magnetic fields and as a result...
    Captain Kirk: Not now Spock!
    Chekov: Shields up, Captain!

    Lights flicker, ship powers down. Emergency lights light up**

    Captain Kirk: Spock! What happened?
    Mr. Spock: It appears that the magnetic shields have erased our hard-drives. Our ship is powerless.
    Captain Kirk: KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Disclaimer: I have no idea if magnetic shields would really erase hard-drives, but oh well! ;)
  • From the TFA:
    ...need to generate a magnetic field and then fill it with ionised gas called plasma... "You don't need much of a magnetic field to hold off the solar wind. You could produce the shield 20-30 kilometres away from the spacecraft,"...

    Hmm, what would be the energy requirements to create a "magnet bottle" to a distance of 20-30 kilometers? They got the idea for the shield from fusion reactor tech, but I'm guessing one would need a Warp Core to power this thing... Oh ya, and not have every pie

    • Uhh... why not just have a little magnetic bottle on a 30km long tether? Much cheaper and easier. Kind of like an aerospike, but for charged particles not air.
    • Hmm, what would be the energy requirements to create a "magnet bottle" to a distance of 20-30 kilometers?

      Well, since the energy density of a magnetic field is (B^2)/(2*u0) (as given here [wolfram.com]), filling a sphere of radius 30km with 1 gauss (roughly the strength of the earth's field) would require 450 gigajoules [google.com]. Of course, that's a really rough guess, and probably low, since the field would be a stronger as you get nearer the ship.

      If you happen to have a time machine (which might look suspiciously like a DeLo

  • by filesiteguy (695431) <kai@perfectreign.com> on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:41PM (#18787777) Homepage
    I can see it now at the Didcot Science Centre (English spelling):

    Manager: How long until we can get the shields operating?

    Engineer: Eight Years

    Manager: Eight Years?

    Engineer: Yes, but you don't have eight years, so I'll do it in two.

    Manager: Do you always multiply your design estimates by a factor of four?

    Engineer: I have a reputation to maintain, sir.
  • Fry says:

    "Shields at maximum Yarnell [wikipedia.org]!"
  • we really need to make further advances in the technology of modulating energy through dilithium crystals first
  • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @03:59PM (#18788029) Journal
    My how slashdot has fallen. If these are "star trek shields" I'm an Aardvaark. How the fuck did this one get past the editors? Were they asleep at the time?
  • by deblau (68023)
    "Star Trek Shields Now a Possibility?"

    No, some scientists have said they intend to build one. I intend to do a lot of things, it doesn't mean they get done.

  • I'm waiting to see the magnetic shield that protects me from X-Rays, Gamma Rays, and other even higher frequency electromagnetic radiation.
  • Chances are that all they need is a Dollar Store, toy bar magnet...

Mathematics is the only science where one never knows what one is talking about nor whether what is said is true. -- Russell