Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Paving the way for pioneers

27.10.2004


Ming Zhang’s cosmic radiation research takes first step in missions to Mars, moon base

As American space exploration fulfills promises for a new era of long-term moon colonization and a mission to Mars, the research of Florida Institute of Technology space physicist Ming Zhang will become more important to the lives of each and every astronaut. While his research on cosmic radiation has its roots in pure science, the practical applications of what he has learned about space weather are matters of life and death.

With more than $1 million in NASA funding, Zhang is researching cosmic and energetic solar radiation, seeking how the two space weather components affect human beings, both as space travelers and as the end-user of satellite technology. "America wants to send humans to Mars and to colonize the moon," said Zhang. "But the natural radiation that exists in space is a big concern since it will prove toxic over time and can reach lethal amounts a few times a decade."



In the vacuum of space, energetic particle radiation from the galaxy and from our sun varies in intensity and energy. This variation is in concert with the 11-year solar cycle. Zhang’s research is determining how and why the solar cycle changes the energetic particle fluxes in our geospace environment and throughout the solar system. For Zhang and his fellow space physicists, this research provides clues into the structure of our galaxy, the origin of all galaxies, as well as the structure and dynamics of our sun. For our astronauts, this knowledge may one day prove life saving.

"We know that the sun has an 11-year cycle from active to dormant; these are the solar seasons" Zhang said. "When the sun is most active, a burst of solar radiation could kill an unprotected astronaut very quickly or cripple a spacecraft. In a radiation burst, the effect on the body would be much like the radiation from a nearby nuclear explosion."

NASA’s interplanetary travel itineraries, however, cannot be limited to the only periods when the sun is dormant. "Cosmic rays coming from outside the solar system are high-energy charged particles, many times more damaging than an X-ray. These particles are most likely produced by supernovae in the galaxy," Zhang said. "These rays can penetrate the human body easily and mutate or kill DNA in the cells along their paths. The mutated DNA can lead to cancer and other alteration of the cellular structures."

The catch-22 is that an active sun produces a more chaotic solar wind, reducing the intensity of cosmic rays and thus protecting astronauts. When the sun is dormant, cosmic radiation is much higher. "For the astronaut, it really is a case of picking your poison," Zhang said. "There is either a period of higher intensity cosmic rays around solar minimum or a high probability of large radiation burst during solar maximum.

NASA was aware of the radiation dangers when it first planned the original missions to the moon. At the time, however, they were less concerned about cosmic radiation because the missions were short. Scientists are just now learning how dangerous cosmic rays are to people and satellites.

Zhang’s research is also helping scientists understand how to predict space weather, particularly when and where to expect large solar bursts.

"By forecasting space weather, we can protect newer satellites, which have smaller electronics that are more susceptible to high-energy radiation. We cam also protect people on Earth by advising airlines to divert flights away from the polar caps," Zhang said. While Earth’s magnetic field protects us from both cosmic and solar radiation, penetration is easiest at the polar caps.

As Zhang continues his space weather research, he and his fellow space physicists at Florida Tech’s Geospace Physics Laboratory (GPL), Drs. Hamid Rassoul, Joseph Dwyer, Brian Ball, and Gang Qin, are unlocking secrets to the universe that were beyond the scope of speculation a few decades ago.

"We know that solar activity modulates cosmic rays, even to the far boundary of the solar system," Rassoul said. "Indeed, using recent observations from NASA’s old work horses, the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, Zhang and Ball found that the intensity of cosmic rays at ~90 AU is still strongly modulated by solar activity. What we are trying to understand is how these changes occur, and what they mean for us and our space investments."

Jay Wilson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.fit.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht NASA laser communications to provide Orion faster connections
30.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Pinball at the atomic level
30.03.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

'On-off switch' brings researchers a step closer to potential HIV vaccine

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Penn studies find promise for innovations in liquid biopsies

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

An LED-based device for imaging radiation induced skin damage

30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>