Earths magnetosphere can protect astronauts from radiation on moon missions

December 12th, 2007 - 4:55 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 12 (ANI): A new research has suggested that the magnetosphere of Earth can protect some parts of the moon as well, thus protecting astronauts from radiation on future moon missions.

The research was carried out by Erika Harnett, a UW (University of Washington) assistant research professor of Earth and space sciences.
The magnetosphere is that area of space, around the Earth, that is controlled by the Earth’s magnetic field.

Though Earth is largely protected by this magnetic field, there are areas of the moon that would be completely protected by the magnetosphere and other areas that are not protected at all.

This finding could prove important to future astronomers going to the moon because there are concerns about potential radiation danger for astronauts during long missions on the lunar surface. A significant part of that danger results from solar storms, which can shoot particles from the sun to Earth at nearly the speed of light and can heat oxygen in the Earth’s ionosphere and send it in a hazardous stream toward the moon.
Solar energetic particles, which are generated during solar storms, carry enough energy to disrupt communications on Earth or even kill satellites in Earth orbit. During those same storms, particles from Earth’s ionosphere, primarily oxygen, also can become significantly energized.

Though they are not as powerful as solar energetic particles, they still pose a significant threat to astronauts working on the moon, or even en route to Mars. Using computers to model properties of the magnetosphere, Harnett found that while solar storms can increase the danger from ionosphere particles hitting the moon they also trigger conditions in the magnetosphere that deflect many hazardous solar particles.
Particles with high enough energy can pass directly through a human without much damage, but particles packing slightly less oomph, though unfelt by a human, can lodge in a person, said Harnett. Typically, it’s not just one particle but many, and the accompanying radiation can damage cells, she added.
Today, there is much greater understanding of the danger posed by solar energetic particles, particularly because of the adverse effects they can have on satellite communications during periods of intense solar flare activity.
“The problem is that we can’t predict when this activity is going to take place so we can’t warn astronauts to take shelter, so they could be vulnerable when the moon is outside the magnetosphere,” said Harnett. “The particles travel near the speed of light, so when we see them generated on the sun’s surface they will arrive in a few minutes and there is little time to react,” she added. The new research could help determine when it is safe for astronauts to work far from a lunar base, said Harnett. (ANI)

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