2018-2019,  Features

The Science Behind: The Dangers of space

For thousands of years, people have been obsessed with exploration. They traveled across land and sea to find not only new resources but new places to settle. When land space ran out, people started to look at places outside of our planet that could possibly be suitable for humans to live. However, scientists have discovered that it is not easy, and they face many challenges such as space debris and radiation.

Space debris surrounds Earth and includes man-made objects that float around in space, and there are thousands of pieces in Earth’s orbit.

“Space is actually essentially empty,” said Gerald Cecil, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The main space debris in low orbits around Earth are paint flecks. Despite being tiny, they can move at very high speeds…so they can pack a non-negligible punch if they hit something.”

Some pieces of space debris have collided with satellites; however, it is not the only issue that scientists today face. Another huge issue is radiation. There are two types of radiation, the radiation found on the Electromagnetic spectrum and ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation can be particles trapped in Earth’s magnetic field, particles from solar flares or galactic cosmic rays. If an astronaut is affected by the ionizing radiation, then DNA molecules can be broken or particles, such as neutrons, are produced.
“Radiation intensity varies around planets in our solar system and elsewhere,” said Cecil.

Cecil explained how as astronauts get farther out into space they are exposed to different levels of radiation until they eventually reach “the full intensity of cosmic radiation.”

The space radiation around Earth is without a doubt dangerous. There are many different levels of radiation outside of Earth that can be harmful to both astronauts and spacecraft. However, the harmful radiation of space is not just confined to space. Radiation from the sun can also harm people on Earth, and it has in the past. The sun can send out flares and the radiation can arrive almost instantly. Electrical grids can be damaged from flares, but it is nothing compared to astronauts, because they must be shielded otherwise they could receive genetic damage.

While space debris and radiation have their effects, money is also a huge challenge for astronomers and astrophysicists. The costs to launch can be astronomical; however, those prices do not even begin to encroach on how much some of the rockets cost to build. With prices as high as these, it is hard to explore farther out into space.

“If we have reliable and relatively inexpensive access to space then we can accept more risk in our hardware and service those telescopes frequently to upgrade them with clever innovations,” said Cecil. “Those will accelerate the process of discovering life-bearing locations that we can eventually visit in our solar system: Mars, moons, Europa and Enceladus perhaps, and around other stars that we won’t be able to visit in the foreseeable future.”

By Sophie Streiff, Online Editor

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