Space is our future, but space is also a deadly place, with poisonous radiation and an increased risk of cancer. We’re protected here on Earth thanks to our planet’s magnetosphere, but is there a way to create an artificial magnetosphere and shield astronauts?
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With over half a century of experience sending humans into space, we’ve learned quite a bit about what it does to the human body. The microgravity weakens the bones, reduces muscles and puts stress on the organs, but this can be partly compensated by exercise.
Time spent in isolation or in close quarters with other astronauts can push people to the breaking point. But this isn’t the first time we’ve learned to work in isolated and dangerous environments with other people.
Being in space, away from the support of modern society requires that astronauts have the skills, training and communication with Earth to deal with medical emergencies, hardware failures, and the inevitable hostile xenomorphs, whether it’s a stand up fight or another bug hunt.
But there’s one risk that’s going to always be there when humans travel out into the Solar System: radiation. Powerful solar storms can kill astronauts in days, but even the ongoing background radiation of the Universe is going to be increasing their risk of getting cancer, through their entire lives.
We’re protected here on Earth by our planet’s magnetosphere; the magnetic shell that surrounds our world, redirecting high-energy particles so they can’t reach the surface.
Earth is protected, and so is Jupiter. But good luck living down on the cloud tops of that gas giant. Unfortunately, the outer space places where we’d really like to live: the Moon, Mars, or rotating space stations in the Lagrange points, have no such protection.
This leads our imaginations to wonder, could we generate an artificial magnetosphere to protect astronauts and space colonists? Magnets keep photos and shopping lists stuck to my refrigerator. How hard could it be?