M8.7-class solar flare erupting on the Sun"s northeastern hemisphere in ~ 03:49 UT top top Jan. 23, 2012. Credit: NASA/SDO and the AIA team. Edited through J. Significant

Solar flares, coronal fixed ejections, high-energy photons, cosmic rays… room is full of various forms of radiation that a human wouldn’t desire to it is in exposed come for an extremely long. Energized particles traveling into and also through the body can cause a hold of nasty health and wellness problems, from low blood counting to radiation sickness come cataracts and cancer… and potentially even death. Luckily Earth’s magnetic field and also atmosphere protects us on the surface ar from lot of this radiation, yet what about the astronauts aboard the an are Station? How could events such together today’s powerful near-X-class solar flare and also last week’s CME affect them, orbiting 240 miles over Earth’s surface?
Surprisingly, they are much safer than you might think.

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The M8.7-class flare the erupted indigenous the Sun early Jan. 23 sent out a large wave the high-energy protons Earthward, producing the biggest solar storm seen since 2005.  The cloud the energetic particles raced outwards with the Sun’s atmosphere at speeds well over a million miles every hour, blowing previous our planet later the exact same day. (More slower-moving charged particles will impact the magnetosphere in the comes days.) We are safe on Earth yet astronauts exposed to together radiation might have confronted serious health and wellness risks. Fortunately, many solar protons can not pass with the hull of the space Station and also so as lengthy as the astronauts remain inside, they space safe.

Of course, this is no the situation with much more dangerous cosmic rays.

According come the NASA scientific research site:

Cosmic rays are super-charged subatomic corpuscle coming mainly from exterior our solar system. Sources include exploding stars, black color holes and other personalities that dwarf the sun in violence. Uneven solar protons, which are reasonably easy to protect against with products such together aluminum or plastic, cosmic rays can not be totally stopped by any known shielding technology.

Even inside their ships, astronauts room exposed come a slow drizzle that cosmic beam coming best through the hull. The particles penetrate flesh, damaging tissue at the microscope level. One possible side-effect is damaged DNA, which can, end the course of time, cause cancer, cataracts and other maladies.

decrease in cosmic radiation during a CME videotaped in 2005.

In a nutshell, cosmic rays are bad. Especially in large, permanent doses.

Now the astronauts plank the ISS are still well within Earth’s protective magnetic field and also so are shielded from much of the cosmic radiation that passes with our solar mechanism daily. And, weird enough, as soon as solar flares occur – such as today’s – the quantity of cosmic radiation the ISS encounters in reality decreases.


The solar particles press them away.

In an effect known as the “Forbush decrease”,  magnetically-charged particles ejected native the Sun during flares and CMEs minimize the quantity of cosmic radiation the ISS experiences, basically because they “sweep away” various other charged corpuscle of an ext cosmic origin.

Because cosmic rays can conveniently penetrate the Station’s hull, and also solar protons are much less able to, the irony is the astronauts are actually a degree safer throughout solar storms than they would certainly be otherwise.

And it’s not simply in low-Earth orbit, either: Wherever CMEs go, cosmic rays space deflected. Forbush decreases have been observed on Earth and also in planet orbit onboard Mir and also the ISS. The Pioneer 10 and also 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft have actually experienced them, too, beyond the orbit that Neptune. (via NASA Science.)

Due come this unanticipated side impact of solar task it’s quite feasible that future manned objectives to the Moon, Mars, an asteroid, etc. Would be scheduled during a period of solar maximum, like the one we room in the middle of right now. The included protection indigenous cosmic rays would be a big benefit because that long-duration missions due to the fact that we yes, really don’t understand all the effects that cosmic radiation may have on the person body. We just haven’t to be traveling in space long enough. Yet the less exposure come radiation, the better it is because that astronauts.

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Maybe solar storms aren’t so negative after all.

Read more about solar radiation and also the Forbush diminish on NASA scientific research here.
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