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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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  • by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @04:29PM (#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.
  • Re:Misleading Title (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cpt_Kirks ( 37296 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @04:37PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @04:59PM (#18788031)
    I believe the shields were able to focus their energy in original series episode #303, "The Paradise Syndrome". I recall Spock pulling out a small circuit-board from under the console and making a few small adjustments to focus the shield energy at the proper vector to thwart the attacking Klingon warbird.
  • Re:Not quite. . . (Score:5, Informative)

    by egomaniac ( 105476 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @05:03PM (#18788105) Homepage
    Yeah. Since photons have no charge, a *magnetic* shield doesn't nothing against radiation. This article is about a magnetic shield to deflect charged particles like cosmic rays and solar wind.

    It won't stop electromagnetic radiation, but that's not the only kind of radiation. Alpha and beta particles both count as radiation, and they can both be deflected magnetically.
  • by dthx1138 ( 833363 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2007 @06:36PM (#18789343)
    Exactly. Coronal mass ejections are not the main cause of concern on a long-term mission for astronauts. Now, a lot of cosmic radiation is ionizing radiation such as electrons and protons, which can be diverted electromagnetically, unlike gamma rays. However, as noted by some others, the power output required to run your magnetic shield 24/7 would almost certainly be ridiculous.

    Remember that our only options for power generation right now are solar arrays and RTG's, and you're not going to get much more than a few kW of power output from either of those two. The shuttle's average power consumption is around 14kW, which is supplied by the fuel cells, so we're going to need a really beefy solar array system just to generate that. Even a nuclear reactor is expected to get somewhere around 500 kW at best, but most of that will probably be needed for whatever advanced propulsion system they're going to employ, since LH2/LOX won't cut it for that kind of long-distance mission.
  • Re:Not quite. . . (Score:3, Informative)

    by Scorchmon ( 305172 ) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @08:30AM (#18796105)
    According to the article, the purpose of the magnetic field is to hold a layer of plasma in place around the vessel. Plasma is made up of charged particles, and charged particles interact with gamma radiation through compton scattering and the photo-electric effect. This "shield" will reduce incoming gamma radiation via those phenomena.

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