Cosmic rays can make deep-space ventures risky for astronauts in future

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A new study has helped scientist understand that cosmic rays can threaten deep-space astronaut missions in the future.

Associate professor Nathan Schwadron of the UNH Institute for the study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS) and the department of physics said that due to a highly abnormal and extended lack of solar activity, the solar wind has been exhibiting extremely low densities and magnetic field strengths, which causes dangerous levels of hazardous radiation to pervade the space environment.

While these conditions are not necessarily a showstopper for long-duration missions to the moon, an asteroid, or even Mars, galactic cosmic ray radiation in particular remains a significant and worsening factor that limits mission durations, he further added.

These conditions brought about the highest intensities of galactic cosmic rays seen since the beginning of the space age, which have created worsening radiation hazards that potentially threaten future deep-space astronaut missions.

The high radiation levels seen during the Sun's last minimum cycle limits the allowable days for typical astronauts behind spacecraft shielding. Given the trend of reducing solar output, the allowable days in space for astronauts has been dropping and estimated to be 20 percent lower in the coming solar minimum cycle as compared to the last minimum cycle.

The study is published online in the journal Space Weather.

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