Feel the force

A team of researchers claim that force field technology could be used to protect spaceships from solar radiation.

Researchers at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the universities of York and Strathclyde, and the IST Lisbon, claim force field technology could be used to protect spaceships from solar radiation.

The researchers have conducted experiments showing a giant magnetic bubble can shield a spacecraft from the harmful effects of radiation from solar storms.

The shield would be similar to the Earth’s own magnetosphere which protects against the deadly radiation of cosmic rays, which are energetic particles originating from the sun and elsewhere in space.

The idea for such shields has been around since the 1960s but it was thought they were impractical because it was believed that only a very large (> 100km wide) magnetic bubble could work.

More recent computer simulations by researchers in Lisbon working with scientists at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, show that theoretically a much smaller magnetic bubble of only several hundred metres across would be enough to protect a spacecraft.

It would scatter the highly charged, ionised particles of solar wind and solar flares and allow astronauts to travel further in space without the threat of deadly radiation sickness.

This would make man’s first mission to Mars more of a possibility.

The Apollo astronauts of the 1960s and 70s that walked upon the Moon are the only humans to have travelled beyond the Earth’s magnetosphere.

With typical journeys to the moon lasting about eight days, the Apollo astronauts were simply lucky not to have encountered a major eruption on the sun that would have flooded their spacecraft with deadly radiation.

A journey to Mars, however, would take about eighteen months, during which time it is almost certain that astronauts would be enveloped by such a storm.