Humans can die from radiation on Mars. With the help of Nasa's "Curiosity" rover, a new research has released fresh information.

Radiation in Mars
[Rocks of Planet Mars/NASA]

Mars, being the earth's neighboring planet, holds a huge curiosity for humans. Nasa, the United States' space agency, hopes to send people to Mars for the first time in the 2030s, but one issue must be overcome before: radiation shielding for space travelers. Because Mars, unlike Earth, lacks a protective magnetic field and a substantial atmosphere, radiation from space can reach the planet's surface unimpeded. NASA's rovers, which are presently conducting study there, seem unconcerned about the radiation, but it may be lethal to people.

People planning to explore Mars in the future will need radiation shielding, preferably without having to transfer it the vast distance from Earth to the red planet. The rover "Curiosity," which recently identified a "weird structure" on Mars, appears to have solved this fundamental challenge. That is at least what a study based on data from the NASA rover "Curiosity" published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters suggests.

Radiation on Mars: Certain terrain formations can protect

The study, led by Guo Jingnan (China's University of Science and Technology) and an international research team, uses data from the Mars rover's Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) sensor. It detects hazardous radiation on Mars, whether it is emitted by the sun or other sources. NASA has named Murray Buttes after one of the regions that RAD was able to measure in detail. The RAD sensor continued to collect data while “Curiosity” remained in this area for 13 days. These results, according to the research, demonstrate a reduction in radiation.

The quantity of radiation reduced by around 5% in the region of Murray Buttes ("butte" is an English word that means "hardness" - it is a rock that is more resistant to erosion than the surrounding area and hence less degraded). Now, five percent isn't much, but in a harsh environment like Mars, every reduction in radiation helps.

On Mars, there are two forms of radiation: direct radiation from above, such as from the sun, and indirect radiation from space. As well as the indirect radiation reflected off Mars' surface. When it comes to indirect radiation, the RAD data also reveals something significant for future human studies on Mars: the surface characteristics on Mars that future humans can use to shield themselves from direct radiation can also enhance indirect radiation. So it's not enough to find a fortress and take refuge there - the indirect radiation might be amplified.

Radiation shielding of any kind, no matter how minor, aids space flight.

The new research adds to the complexity of understanding the radiation conditions on Mars. Aside from the conditions that affect radiation, there's also the distance between Mars and the sun to consider. Things that seem trivial, such as a person's height on Mars or the angle at which radiation enters the thin Martian atmosphere, can make a difference.

While the study does not provide a definitive answer to the radiation problem on Mars, it does suggest additional options for future space flight. Any natural radiation shielding found on Mars will very certainly be employed in future astronautical missions, or, as the journal Universe Today puts it, "detailed radiation maps that include the landscape might save lives."

The NASA rover "Perseverance" made history on Mars lately by being the first to gather a rock sample. Meanwhile, the "Perseverance" Mars helicopter surprises everyone and forces NASA to rethink its plans.

©Source: NASA/FR
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