Why study space radiation? To keep astronauts safe – Brighter World
A satellite built by McMaster students and researchers is heading into orbit to help protect astronauts as they travel further and stay out there longer. (Kayla Da Silva, McMaster University)
BY Jesse Dorey
March 10, 2023
With humanity eyeing space travel that would take astronauts beyond the low Earth orbit we’ve become accustomed to — say, on missions to Mars or beyond — it has become even more crucial to understand the long-term effects of space radiation.
For the last eight years, a team of students and researchers at McMaster have been building a satellite designed to do just that. And it’s about to launch into space on board a SpaceX rocket.
The satellite, named NEUDOSE — which is pronounced “new dose” and stands for Neutron Dosimetry (the measurement of radiation doses) and Exploration — is a state-of-the-art instrument capable of measuring the radiation levels that astronauts are exposed to in outer space.
But to understand why a satellite that’s barely the size of a loaf of bread is such a monumental achievement, we first need to understand why space radiation poses such a major risk to astronauts and how this satellite will help address those risks.
This little manoeuvre is going to cost us
“Just like the sun produces light that we can see down here on Earth, the sun’s also emitting particles that are traveling through space,” explains Eric Johnston, co-Principal Investigator for the NEUDOSE mission and a McMaster graduate.
In addition to this, stars and other objects also contribute to the overall radiation environment in outer space.
Here on Earth, the majority of these particles are stopped by the atmosphere.
But in space, that natural protection doesn’t exist, meaning these particles are free to interact with astronauts and spacecrafts.
“Without that extra protection we’re used to having, radiation is a lot more damaging to astronauts,” says Johnston.
Among other physiological effects, this damage includes the development of cancer, the formation of cataracts in the eyes, and cardiovascular issues, all of which can go undetected for years.
And for the NEUDOSE team, it’s not hard to imagine how this risk could be amplified on deep space missions.
Consider a human mission to Mars.
It could take astronauts upward of nine months to reach the planet. In that time, astronauts may receive a dose of radiation equivalent to what a human on Earth would receive in their entire lifetime, explains McMaster grad Andrei Hanu, co-Principal Investigator on the NEUDOSE mission.
Start factoring in time spent on the planet and travelling back to Earth and you can see why the effects of long-term exposure can be catastrophic.
Houston, we have a problem
But why is it so hard to protect humans from radiation in space?
According to Johnston, we get a reminder of it every time we go for an X-ray.
“If you imagine you’re going to get an X-ray at the hospital, they’ll put a lead vest on you,” he explains. “But there’s only so much lead and material we can bring up to space at any given time.”
There’s also the fact that we don’t really know much about the quality of radiation up there — that is, the types and amounts of radiation present in space.
“We’ve measured the bulk quantities to say, ‘Okay, we think it’s about this much damage,’” explains Johnston. “But the quality of radiation can really alter the long-term damage that might happen 20 or 30 years down the road.”
This gap in knowledge makes it extremely difficult for experts to adequately prepare astronauts for lengthy deep space missions.
“If we’re going to push astronauts further into space then we really need to understand the long-term effects of human space flight,” explains Johnston. “And to do that, we need to first know the quality of the radiation.”
This is the way
Shielding against all space radiation is an unrealistic goal, Hanu says.
But there may be a more effective way to mitigate its effects.
“A better approach would be to understand the space radiation environment,” explains Hanu.
Doing so would allow experts to understand the types and levels of radiation present during missions and prepare adequate protections for those exposure levels.
That’s where NEUDOSE comes in.
The state-of-the-art device comprises two separate instruments.
The first is a satellite that does everything you’d expect — namely, collect power from the sun and transmit data back to earth. According to Johnston, we can think of this instrument as the brains of the operation.
The second instrument is a novel radiation detector that is designed to measure space radiation and determine the type of radiation present as well as its dose, all in real –time. This device is one of the first tissue equivalent counters capable of measuring the quality of radiation.
The data it collects will be transmitted back to a ground station at McMaster, where researchers will analyze the data and use its measurements to understand the long-term effects of space radiation.
“Right now, this is a technology demonstration mission,” says Hanu. “But eventually NEUDOSE will be a standard radiation instrument for future missions to the Moon and eventually deep space.”
'Astronomical lightshow' – Gazette
Next year, 2024, is Solar Eclipse Year.
On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible from the south Pacific Ocean, northern Mexico, across the U.S. and through the Atlantic provinces of Canada.
More importantly, the total solar eclipse will be visible from southwestern Newfoundland, in the areas of Stephenville and across central Newfoundland through Terra Nova Park and Gander.
A partial eclipse will be visible across the province, with St. John’s and Corner Brook just outside the range of a total eclipse, an 80 per cent eclipse in Labrador City and a 70 per cent eclipse in Nain.
The 2024 solar eclipse will be the first eclipse crossing the province since 1970 and the only one until 2079.
For many, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event to see a total solar eclipse in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Solar eclipses are special events in many cultures and have allowed scientists to make great discoveries.”
We are fortunate to even be able to observe a solar eclipse.
The Earth is the only place in our solar system where there is a moon that is about the same size in the sky (0.5 degree) as the sun.
Solar eclipses are special events in many cultures and have allowed scientists to make great discoveries.
When the moon passes in front of the sun, most of the light is blocked and we can see the sun’s corona (more about the corona below).
A note: make sure to wear appropriate eye protection during an eclipse to look at the sun.
The late Dr. Jay Pasachoff, an American astronomer, was so inspired by solar eclipses that he chased them around the world to experience more than 70 eclipses in about 50 years.
In a New York Times 2010 op-ed, he wrote: “There’s also the primal thrill this astronomical lightshow always brings the perfect alignment, in solemn darkness, of the celestial bodies that mean most to us.”
There is the thrill of observing solar eclipses and there is the thrilling science of them, too.
Thanks to solar eclipses, we learn about the sun’s corona, a thin layer of plasma that is just above the sun’s surface.
We normally can’t see it because it is so thin and has such a small density, but the temperature of the corona is about one million degrees Celsius.
It is believed that the corona is related to the sun’s magnetic field and to things like solar flares and mass ejections.
These flares and mass ejections impact the Earth through space weather and the aurorae — phenomena that those of us in the Northern Hemisphere recognize as the Northern Lights.
And it’s not just the sun.
Solar eclipses were important to provide some of the early evidence of Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.
Einstein predicted that light is bent by the gravity of stars.
So, if we can see stars behind the sun, they will appear to be in a slightly different location in the sky relative to each other than when we see them normally.
In 1919 scientists observed stars behind the sun that became visible during a solar eclipse and found that, indeed, their observations agreed with Einstein’s theory.
Town of Gander a major partner
Solar eclipses are fantastic events that connect humans to nature, celestial bodies and to the universe.
Next year’s celebration is an opportunity to celebrate science, nature and humanity.
Thanks to the enthusiasm and excitement of its staff and council, Prof. Svetlana Barkanova, Department of Physics, Grenfell Campus, and I are partnering with the Town of Gander to host a solar eclipse viewing party on April 8, 2024, and a science festival in the days before the eclipse.
The town is excited to be a major partner bringing people from across Newfoundland and Labrador to learn, discover and experience a total solar eclipse together.
The town has pledged to develop a budget to assist with the costs of this unique science festival, along with providing facilities, viewing sites and in-kind assistance.
The event is being planned in collaboration with a continuing science and community outreach program led by Prof. Barkanova and her team.
They deliver a large-scale scientific and cultural outreach program for youth in our province, especially rural youth, girls and Indigenous students, and is currently developing in-person and online seminars and workshops leading up to the solar eclipse.
“It is an ideal chance for us at Memorial to do what we do best — share what is great about our fields.”
This is a call to faculty, students and staff at Memorial University across all campuses to join in the celebration and help it grow and expand.
Not only will we have the opportunity to experience an amazing celestial event, it is a chance to come together in central Newfoundland and share the stories of what we do at Memorial from how we understand the sun and moon in astrophysics, in cultures, in literatures, in humanities and so on.
This is a call to action for your involvement; more participating colleagues means more public talks, Science on Tap events, outreach in schools and more.
It is an ideal chance for us at Memorial to do what we do best — share what is great about our fields and do so around this rare event in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Come join in for Solar Eclipse Year 2024 in Gander. Contact me via email.
Co-authored by Dr. Svetlana Barkanova, Department of Physics, Grenfell Campus, and Brian Williams, tourism development officer, Town of Gander.
Another Animal That Speckles with Age: Dolphins – Hakai Magazine
Article body copy
As humans age, our bodies are often graced with fine lines, gray hairs, and flecks of hyperpigmentation on our skin known as age spots. Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins get spots with age, too. And as scientists have revealed in a recent study, the onset of dolphins’ speckling is so predictable it can be a noninvasive way to gauge the dolphins’ age.
Age is a crucial metric for understanding dolphin populations. Many ways of calculating a dolphin’s age exist, such as counting the layers of dental material in their teeth or analyzing DNA from a skin sample. But they’re all somewhat invasive. That’s why developing a model for estimating age by simply looking at dolphins’ dots is so interesting.
Ewa Krzyszczyk, a dolphin researcher at Bangor University in Wales who was not involved in the study, says the new technique “is a really useful tool.” By estimating a dolphin’s age, Krzyszczyk says, scientists can answer important questions, such as when a dolphin stops weaning, when it reaches sexuality maturity, or when a dolphin shows signs of deterioration from old age. “It gives a more well-rounded idea of what’s going on in your population that can then help with conservation,” she says.
The discovery that dolphins’ dots reflect aging stems from research led by Genfu Yagi, a marine mammal researcher at Mie University in Japan. Previously, Yagi had analyzed a compendium of underwater footage taken of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Mikura Island, near central Japan. Since many of the individual dolphins were known from birth, Yagi could trace how their speckles emerged as they grew.
“The speckles first appear around the genital slit at 6.5 years of age,” says Yagi. Over time, he says, this treasure trail expands toward the head and up toward the back. By the time dolphins are around eight years old, speckles start on their chest, and by around 17, the spots reach their jaw. Wild bottlenose dolphins typically live between 30 and 50 years.
To use these speckles to estimate age, Yagi created a new system that quantifies the density of speckles on various parts of the body. This weighted speckle density score is then correlated with age. Yagi says his speckle-counting method works for dolphins between the ages of seven and 25 and has a margin of error of 2.58 years—more accurate than estimating age from DNA samples.
“The strength of this study is that it does not require special techniques, facilities, high costs, or any invasive surveying,” says Yagi. “Anyone can estimate a dolphin’s age.”
At the moment, Yagi’s formula can only be used for the Mikura Island Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin population because speckling onset could differ between geographic locations. He says, however, that the same modeling technique could work for other dolphin populations.
So far, dolphins are the only cetacean known to develop spots, with pantropical and Atlantic spotted dolphins getting dark spots on their bellies and light spots on their backs. Yagi says scientists don’t know exactly how or why these speckles form.
“This is a very rare trait, as few mammals other than dolphins continue to change body coloration throughout their lives,” he says.
CME storm effect! Sun sparks auroras without even hitting Earth – HT Tech
CME is one of the most influential drivers of solar storms and leads to powerful Geomagnetic storms on Earth. According to NASA, they are huge bubbles of coronal plasma threaded by intense magnetic field lines that are ejected from the Sun over the course of several hours. Although CMEs usually occur with solar flares, they can occur on their own too, and have the potential to disrupt sensitive electronics on Earth, as well as affect power grids. Surprisingly, a CME doesn’t need to strike Earth to have an effect.
Just a couple of days ago, a CME passed close by Earth and this caused, what is known as a, ‘Ripple Effect’. According to a report by spaceweather.com, the interplanetary magnetic field near Earth suddenly rotated by almost 180 degrees. This usually occurs when a CME passes by closely. Despite the CME not striking Earth, it still had a spectacular effect on our planet. Auroras were seen and captured over the Arctic Circle.
The spaceweather.com report said, “Yesterday, March 20th, the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) near Earth suddenly rotated by almost 180 degrees. This kind of magnetic ripple is a typical sign of a CME passing nearby. The “ripple effect” ignited colorful lights inside the Arctic Circle.”
What happens when solar particles hit the Earth?
As the particles erupted during the CME reach Earth, they interact with Earth’s magnetic field and cause the formation of Geomagnetic storms. When solar particles hit Earth, the radio communications and the power grid is affected when it hits the planet’s magnetic field. It can cause power and radio blackouts for several hours or even days. However, electricity grid problems occur only if the solar flare is extremely large.
Auroras form because of the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) from the Sun which sends solar fares hurtling towards Earth. Geomagnetic storms are often the precursor to stunning streaks of green light across the sky known as Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.
How NASA monitors solar activity
Among many satellites and telescopes observing the Sun currently, one is the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The SDO carries a full suite of instruments to observe the Sun and has been doing so since 2010. It uses three very crucial instruments to collect data from various solar activities.
They include Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) which takes high-resolution measurements of the longitudinal and vector magnetic field over the entire visible solar disk, Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) which measures the Sun’s extreme ultraviolet irradiance and Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) which provides continuous full-disk observations of the solar chromosphere and corona in seven extreme ultraviolet (EUV) channels.
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