Radiation could pose challenge to putting people on Mars



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(NewsNation) — A massive solar storm that impacted Earth also affected Mars, and data suggests radiation levels on the red planet could pose a challenge to human exploration of the planet.

A record-setting solar storm made the aurora borealis visible as far south as North Carolina, stunning people with a view of the dancing light not usually seen in most of the U.S.

That same storm also hit Mars and also caused an aurora there. Data from NASA’s Odyssey and MAVEN (it stands for “Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution”) orbiters and the Curiosity rover showed what happened when solar flares hit the planet.

Auroras on Mars operate differently than they do on Earth. The dancing colors are created by charged particles in the atmosphere. On Earth, a magnetic field channels those particles toward the poles, which is why they are normally only seen at high latitudes.

But Mars has no such field, having lost it in ancient times. Because of that, if Martians existed, they would be able to see auroras across the entire planet.

Curiosity had a similar view, though the radiation caused distortion in the rover’s cameras. Data from Curiosity and the orbiters gave NASA scientists valuable insight into the amount of radiation on the red planet.

Data showed that radiation near Curiosity was around 8,100 micrograys, which is the equivalent of 30 chest X-rays. While that isn’t a deadly amount for a person, it’s also a lot more than someone would want to be exposed to, especially since astronauts on Mars would likely face multiple exposures like that.

Astronauts could also face visual distortions similar to Curiosity’s cameras, with many on the International Space Station describing seeing “fireworks” behind their eyes when they close them during a radiation storm.

So, what does this mean for future exploration?

Scientists say the data shows that shielding on Mars will have to be a serious concern for any crewed missions, raising the possibility that cliffside or lava tubes could play a role in such efforts. That could also impact agriculture on the planet. That would be a necessity because it takes nine months to travel to Mars, and astronauts would have to wait a minimum of three months on the planet before a suitable window to make a return trip.

There is likely to be more data for research as the sunspot that caused the previous storms has continued to show activity.



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