For a long time, cosmic rays have been the stuff science fiction films are made of: Intergalactic heroes fighting off bad guys that shoot off the stuff or state-of-the-art spaceships being protected by it. However, real life isn’t too far off, albeit with a potentially more sinister twist: While radiation exposure in space is a fact, new research from University of New Hampshire’s Space Science Center warns that the level of exposure is higher than what was previously thought. In the study, the researchers wrote that this rise in radiation levels pose serious effects on astronauts and satellite technology.
“The radiation dose rates from measurements obtained over the last four years exceeded trends from previous solar cycles by at least 30 percent, showing that the radiation environment is getting far more intense,” according to lead author Nathan Schwadron. He added that this could affect the environment in space travel and space weather, and should be taken into consideration in planning and designing travel to the “moon, Mars, asteroids and beyond.”
The study, recently published in the journal Space Weather, revealed that one of the most important Solar Energetic Particle (SEP) events occurred in September 2017, when large doses of radiation that could put humans and satellites at risk were released.
Earth-bound people are protected from cosmic rays by the planet’s magnetic field. However, astronauts could catch cosmic radiation sickness or worse, suffer long-term health problems such as cancer and damage to the heart, brain, and central nervous system.
Besides cosmic radiation, astronauts and space travelers must face the following threats to their physical, mental and emotional health.
The history of space travel is long and well-documented. Hopefully, we learn from the mistakes of history – and help our astronauts stay safe and healthy as they journey to the unknown and discover new things that make us make sense of the universe even more.