Can We Protect Astronauts From Radiation? Building An Artificial Magnetosphere

Can We Protect Astronauts From Radiation? Building An Artificial Magnetosphere

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? 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? There are three kinds of radiation that space
travelers will need to be concerned about. The first is galactic cosmic radiation, or
GCR. These are clouds of high-energy particles
thought to come from supernovae. They’ve been traveling for millions or even
billions of years for the opportunity to smash up your DNA. Although the amount of this radiation is fairly
low, the individual particles have incredibly high energy, and can punch through existing
spacecraft shielding. And they can come from any direction in the
sky. When astronauts close their eyes, they see
flashes of light; cosmic rays zapping through their retinas. The second kind is known as trapped radiation. These are particles which have been trapped
in a magnetic field, like the Earth’s Van Allen Belts, or Jupiter’s magnetosphere. Although this is a big problem when you’re
in the region, they don’t extend far. The third kind is energetic particles released
by the Sun during solar storms. These particles are lower energy, and spacecraft
can provide shielding to protect astronauts. You’ve probably heard the term “rads”
for radiation exposure, but scientists now use a term known as Sieverts, or milliSieverts
for a thousandth of a Sievert. In the short term, if you get half a Sievert
of exposure, or 500 milliSieverts, then you’ll experience the symptoms of acute radiation
poisoning. We’re talking fatigue, nausea, vomiting,
seizures, and eventually… death. Get a few Sieverts in one dose and death is
the likely outcome. But the radiation can also harm you over your
lifetime. For every additional Sievert you experience,
you face a 5% increase in the risk of developing cancer in the future. NASA’s policy is that an astronaut can’t
get more than a 3% increased risk of cancer, as part of their career. Any mission that would give an astronaut that
kind of risk won’t be approved. Astronauts in low Earth orbit accumulate 10x
the amount of radiation you get down on the surface. And astronauts beyond the Earth will experience
10x the radiation of a LEO mission. During its flight to Mars, NASA’s Curiosity
Rover measured the amount of radiation dosage it was experiencing through the trip. According to the Radiation Assessment Detector
instrument on board Curiosity, it experienced an average of 1.8 milliSieverts of radiation
per day during its voyage. The majority were galactic cosmic rays, high
energy particles from other stars in the Universe, while only 5% of that came from the Sun, thanks
to the lower activity of our star during this period. According to NASA, it’s like getting a full
CT scan every five or six days. But the bottom line is that for a human trip
to Mars, lasting as much as a thousand days, the risk of cancer goes beyond NASA’s policies. And for humans living on Mars and in space,
a human will experience much worse, not to mention lethal doses during powerful solar
storms. During the Apollo Era, NASA just sent astronauts
quickly through the magnetosphere to minimize their radiation dose from the trapped radiation
surrounding the planet. And they’ll use the same technique for future
missions out into deep space. Beyond that, NASA looks at physically shielding
astronauts. The Orion Crew Capsule, for example, will
be equipped with an instrument called the Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor, or HERA. It will give the astronauts a warning when
there’s an increase of solar radiation, so they can protect themselves. They’ll have about an hour to create a temporary
shield made from storage bags and supplies on board Orion, and they could need to stay
inside their homemade fort for up to 24 hours, until the storm passes. I’m sure you’re thinking, let’s just
surround the spacecraft with an artificial magnetosphere. There we go, problem solved. Of course, NASA has thought of this, and they’ve
been struggling to implement this idea for over 40 years. Werner Von Braun designed a hypothetical spaceship
containing a solenoid that would direct an electric field to generate an artificial magnetosphere. You’ve probably done this experiment in
your school science class. If you run electricity through a wire, it
generates a magnetic field. The more electricity you pump through the
wire, the stronger the field – this is called an electric dipole. The problem is that the strength of a magnetic
field produced by an electric dipole drops by the inverse of the cube of the distance. In other words, the bigger the field, the
more energy you need. And that gets expensive fast. But in the last few decades, amazing new materials
called superconductors have been developed, providing a way that electricity can move
through a material with almost no energy loss. They work best at cold temperatures, and space
is generally pretty cold. In theory, using a superconducting wire, it
should be possible to generate a powerful enough magnetic field using only a few dozen
kilowatts of power. That’s a lot, but within the energy budget
of a spacecraft. Back in 2011, NASA’s Innovative Advanced
Concepts group awarded a contract to Advanced Magnet Lab for the development of an artificial
magnetosphere. They proposed surrounding a spacecraft with
expandable superconducting coils. Once charged up, the magnetic coils would
expand around the spacecraft, protecting it from the various forms of radiation. In the end, the team concluded that although
this technology is feasible, it’s not ready. The state of the art in superconducting materials
weren’t light enough to provide better protection over passive shielding. In other words, it’s still better to just
go with surrounding yourselves with your own food, water and other supplies than to try
and generate an artificial magnetic field. The European Space Agency thinks it’s on
track to develop an artificial magnetosphere thanks to a collaboration with CERN. If anyone knows how to direct charged particles,
it’ll be the folks operating the Large Hadron Collider. They worked on the European Space Radiation
Superconducting Shield project, also known as SR2S. It used a superconducting wire made of magnesium
diboride coiled up. By running electricity through the coil, it
should be capable of producing a magnetic field 3,000 times stronger than the Earth’s
magnetic field, providing a bubble of magnetic safety 10-metres across. This would allow the astronauts to be inside
the spaceship or even perform spacewalks outside, within the protective bubble, all the while
protected from space radiation. We last heard a flurry of announcements about
this technology in 2015. I reached out to the director of the project,
Dr. Roberto Battiston, who is also the director of the Italian Space Agency. According to Dr. Battiston, the experiments
went well, and the next step is investigate higher temperature superconductors. But nothing that’s ready to protect astronauts. Instead of just protecting a single spaceship,
though, what if you could protect an entire planet? At the recent Planetary Science Division meeting,
held in Washington DC, a team of researchers proposed a pretty clever way to protect Mars
from solar radiation. Instead of trying to surround the planet in
some kind of artificial magnetosphere, they suggested that you could get the same effect
by positioning a smaller shield at the Sun-Mars L1 Lagrange point. This is a point in between the Sun and Mars
where very little fuel is needed to keep a spacecraft in place. With the right electric charge on the shielding
spacecraft, it would generate an artificial magnetosphere that blocks the radiation that
would reach Mars. Imagine a rock in a river with a calm trail
behind it. It gets even better, this trail would block
the solar wind from reaching Mars, which blasted away its atmosphere into space over billions
of years. With this shield in place, volcanic outgassing
would naturally thicken the density of the atmosphere, and increase temperatures on Mars
by an average of 4-degrees Celsius. This would be enough to melt the carbon dioxide
polar caps, contributing to a greenhouse effect, warming the planet even more. Future Mars colonists would enjoy the decreased
solar radiation and the steadily thickening atmosphere on the Red Planet. Unfortunately, this technology would only
protect against solar radiation, it wouldn’t help against the galactic cosmic radiation. In a moment, I’m going to talk about a cool
proposal that would create an artificial magnetosphere on the surface of Mars, but first I’d like
to thank: Jordan Barnes
Sindre Svendby Ammon Carlson And the rest of our 813 patrons for their
generous support. If you love what we’re doing and want to
get in on the action, head over to Although the L1 shield will protect Lunar
or Martian colonists from solar radiation, it doesn’t help with the galactic cosmic
radiation. In order to protect against that threat, a
researcher from Italy named Marco Peroni has developed a solution: planting a huge wire
donut into the ground and running electricity through it. He proposes building a huge solenoid, or “doughnut”
that would be embedded in the bedrock of the Moon or Mars. Although the full solenoid would be up to
a kilometer below the surface, part of the ring would pass above ground, providing a
protected area for the colony. The solenoid would consist of huge cables
that would pass an electrical current, and by doing so, generate a powerful magnetic
field that protects the colony from both cosmic and solar radiation. The cables would also provide the structure
for the roof of the colony for a micrometeorite shield, which would block a view straight
up, but would be open to space on the sides. Below this protective shield, the actual colony
would be housed in smaller domes, fully protected from the radiation coming from space. It would be an enormous undertaking, but once
completed, would give colonists a safe place to live and work on the surface of another
world. Although it sounds like an easy enough idea,
the task of creating an artificial magnetic field is actually quite challenging. It requires advances in harnessing superconducting
materials. It could still be a long time before anyone
cracks this, so that a future astronaut commander can just say “shields up” when a solar
storm is passing by. How do you feel about the risks. Would you be willing to increase your chances
of getting cancer if it meant being one of the first humans to go to Mars? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Time for a playlist, all about space radiation
and how we can protect ourselves from it when we journey beyond Earth. Marco Durante talks about the dangers of space
radiation and what can be done about it. Curious Droid talks about Deep Space Travel
and space radiation. Dr. Ian O’Neill talks about a space shield. A longer lecture from NASA about space habitats
and radiation protection. Finally Bill Nye and Mike Massimo talk about
space radiation and electromagnetic shields.

100 thoughts on “Can We Protect Astronauts From Radiation? Building An Artificial Magnetosphere

  1. I have two questions. 1st. question If a black hole swallows mass and energy what happens to the energy? Since with time being brought to a stop wouldn't the temperature be absolute zero? or would its temperature in the billions of degrees? Since heat is a measure of the speed of atoms movement which is correct? 2nd. question What effect does the billions of watts of energy passing into the earth from the magnetosphere have on the planet? Does it help to keep the core hot like a electric heating element? Does it act as a dynamo and help to produce the magnetosphere? All of the energy must go somewhere.

  2. So you still need as full enveloping EM shield not just an umbrella to protect a planet. So thought include a series of satellites that work to provide such a shield. This is stuff that would have to built on Mars. So do Plans to colonize Mars at all include plans to build an industrial complex there, as well?

  3. Hi Fraser.
    Wouldn't Faradays cage be good solution to create protective areas? Or it wouldn't block cosmic radiation?

  4. As one who already has cancer (start my treatments on the 12th), an emphatic YES! I'd take the risk for the opportunity to go to Mars. Great episode, Fraser.

    As always, thanks so much for sharing.


  5. Maybe is a good thing space exploration is going slow. This way, we (humans) have time to design and get everything figured out before going full colonizing mode and dying for a silly (radiation) storm.

  6. Got a question for your Q&A Fraser – I'd like to know about microwave energy transmission which appears to get skipped over by anyone purporting dyson swarms as if it is a given. I seems to me whilst this technology may work, the amount of power we would need from a swarm would get very lossy, very difficult to implement and possibly at the major nodes very melty too. How would (does) this technology really work and how would it be a limiting factor?

  7. If properly shielding the ship is difficult, would something like lead lined bodysuits that the astronauts wear most of the time be an effective solution? Might be a bit cumbersome, but astronauts aren't really in it for the comfort. How much lead would be needed?

  8. Would a shield like that proposed for the Mars-Sun L1 point also provide protection against CMEs? If so, would one at the Earth-Sun L1 point be strong enough to protect our electrical grids when the Sun sends the next big one our way?

  9. I notice I'm confused. The earth's magnetic field is extremely weak. If I put a neodymium magnet in my pocket, that's a stonger field at my head than the earth is providing. Why would spacecraft need insanely strong fields? Is the earth's field more effective at deflecting radiation becaus it's so much larger?

  10. Question comment: it seems all of our orbital satelites cannot stay in thei place. Like youve mention many times: 1:moon is on its way away 2: ISS needs rocket bursts every now and then to stay in a stabile orbit. Still the moon (as i understand) is much more stabile then any human satelit. Sooo: Can we create a satelite, somewhere, that is as stabile as the moon? And why are the current ones not so? Guess this has something to do with the L points… sry for that, lol, i know you had one or two of those questionsxD Show (even more) patience with us lesser gifted please good sir. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. The good thing about radiation in space is that the inevitable hostile xenomorph will kill you long before the accumulated DNA damage will.

    BTW, isn't "hostile xenomorph" a bit tautological? Have you ever met a xenomorph who's invited you to tea and scones?

  12. Hey Fraser, is there enough light in interstellar space to see your hand on front of your face? Also since our eyes absorb light to see, if no one were around would everything be just dark including stars?

  13. Think about it this way: the first people to return to Earth from the surface of Mars would be international treasures. Now I'm not saying that would magically create a cure for cancer, but it if there were, they'd be one of the first to receive it, if/when it happens.

    Personally, even if I got two decades shaved off of my life, I would have no regrets. My legacy would live much better and happier than me at that point anyway.

  14. 6:11 Cant you just use the Electricity in Space that alrdy exists coming from the Sun & other sources to generate the EMF? Space is filled w/ Energy. Let the Sun power the EMF instead.
    8:07 Why would we even need something 3,000x more powerful than the Magnetosphere when it seems to keep us all alive as is?

    Yall need to replicate the design of Earth's core. Yall need to be connected to the Sun like the planets are. Powered up.

  15. QUESTION.. if NASA and all the countries who are implicated and in control of the ISS would agree to move it … would it be possible to get the ISS to orbit the moon.. and speed up the process of having a permanent station on the moon .. since we now c all these companies being able to go int orbit with better and better and cheaper rockets ..why not build a new ISS around the earth ..cheaper and a better quality than the one we have presently .. and way much faster since we know that SPACEX can launch and is trying to launch rockets a few times a month ..they would be able to create a ISS much faster ..instead of trying to build one from scratch around the moon.. WOULD IT BE POSSIBLE ?

  16. Send humonoid Robots and Spaceships first to test the waters. After that I am shre the engnieers can build a strong magnet. Also if the human race were to focus on Building things and not destroying. We can build artificial magnetosphere

  17. Tip of the Day / and Maybe the century :
    Can Electronics Work Without Electronics ?
    That's a Shield !
    ie : Using the Electro magnetic of all the Ship to server as a Shield.
    But that's a Long way for you to find Dousing in the Dark. the study of Shape and resonance.
    I think the sanest thing To build over there would Be eventually a Pyramid Of Which it has to be Aligned with the Stars.
    Or just try to make another Sphinx … Where Would you place it Would be the 1st Question on how really you look at that Planet.

  18. Hi Fraser! Maybe this is in a different realm of science, but related: How close to a cure for cancer are we? and would that cure include treatment for radiation space radiation ? Maybe the cure for cancer is something more attainable than digging down 1000 meters in Mars…

  19. Not only do I think it is a good idea to be a pioneer, it is my namesake. I'm already in private circles in preparation for space application…

  20. Fraser, "haydron" isn't a word. I've heard you pronounce hadron like that in a number of videos. Sorry if I sound like a jerk.

  21. This appears to reduce/mitigate/solve one of two problems with outer space travel/existing. The. other is distance.

  22. YES to the increased cancer risk question. In fact, I think that to be one of the first people to go to Mars, I'd take a 100% chance of cancer (after, say, 5 years). We all have to die someday, usually in a slow, painful, wasting manner anyway- the adventure would absolutely be worth it!

  23. Makes me wonder, do those superconducting tapes that MIT were on about making small scale fusion reactors with last year make any of these ideas more workable?

  24. Water and the properties of Boron and its variables, are the perfect shield from gamma rays and other damaging radiations, x rays included. Those damaging radiation "barriers" work on the simple concept of "rays in, and photons out". Having to create a magnetosphere is too complicated and require a massive amount of energy.

  25. โ€œ shields upโ€ lol captain Picard, how long have you been wanting to say that?

    Have you done a video on Lagrange points? If so can you add a link please ๐Ÿ˜€

  26. why can't we use permanent magnets? like use many small pieces of Neodymium magnets and stick them around the spacecraft or maybe use a huge Flexible magnet sheet to cover the spaceship ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  27. Fraser – love your stuff, I am learning a lot everyday… As such, time for a possible stupid question. Is the Alcubierre FTL theory sound or are these vides click bait for a Sci-Fact hopeful? Apologies if this has been covered or already disproven hocum.

  28. Why not just a suit that protects the astronaut? The voltage for this could be feasible with current lithium ion battery technology.

  29. I'm all for this, just for the technological/engineering knowledge, but I don't think Mars should have a permanent colony just because of the lesser gravity.

  30. Or you could used explosively powered pulsed magnets to induce a large field into the existing core of Mars. Do this a few pulses of 2000 – 3000 gauss at several linear locations to great a larger permanent field !

  31. Do we know if the BFR will have an Artificial Magnetosphere in it's design? Has SpaceX indicated they might include a shield satellite like this? In fact, has there been anything punlished on radiation protection in their upcoming missions?

  32. Once we have created a powerful energy source each ship should be built with a torus at its center to create an artificial magnetosphere. Really that is the best option.

  33. If mars has an iron core what about reinstituting the magnetic field there. If it has any residual magnetic properties could some kind of electrical pulse regenerate it?

    What if we were able to generate some type of storm and introduce a magnetic particle that blows around the planet?

  34. Technically the Earth's magnetosphere doesn't protect us from radiation. The Earth's atmosphere protects us from radiation, and it could continue to do so for a while even if the Earth didn't have a magnetosphere.. The magnetosphere protects the atmosphere from being stripped-away by radiation, like what happened to Mars.

  35. I just stumbled upon this video. Great as always. I'm really interested in a planetary magnetosphere for Mars…. It is kind of demoralizing to terraform a planet and create an atmosphere that will get blown away by the solar winds (even if that happens over a long period of time)

  36. Honestly, I think it is best to just accept that we need heavy (massive) shielding for spacecraft, and plan around the issue. Launch expenses are currently dropping and there should be a plan to construct a massively shielded interplanetary spacecraft in earth orbit. This would require many launches to get the needed materials into place and assemble them, but this is now more affordable than in the past, and then you could travel to Mars in safety. Once there, you would want to burrow into the surface to spend most of your time protected from radiation. I'm not up for this personally, but this is the best way to get there if the goal is permanent habitation.

  37. It seems like building a shielded compartment into craft makes more sense. if we're already carrying the weight in supplies, why not just redesign a small section with those supplies stored in the outer walls? then no cool blanket fort needs to be built. it's already incorporated into the design of that segment of the craft. just hop in.

    ideally all sections of all crafts would be shielded in this way, but they probably don't have enough supplies for that in current missions. i guess everything gets easier once we start building craft in space and don't have to launch so much payload. Lunar mining! … uh, with drones i guess.

  38. Hmmm… what would happen if you put a ton of electricity through one of those superconducting wires… can you say ray shielding?

  39. I like the idea of providing Mars with magnetic shielding. Perhaps with an array of nuclear and eventually fusion powered ships. Until then we'll need big rockets like BFR to carry enough shielding for passengers. Then dig in on site/build habitats with enough shielding.

    I'm also curious about how well EVA suit's are shielded?

  40. With all the other methods mentioned to protect astronauts from radiation how about lead lined suits too? Put them on when the storm is coming?

  41. What if they dig polls in the ground and put magnets ontop of them kind of like transformers attached to power lines… so you have several magnetic fields spread out around the coloney attached to a nuke reactor… the reactor is good for 20 or so years so ya.. just let it run… you can have the fields from each pol over lapping encase of a failure or repair.
    The polls will be far enough away from the ground so it does not affect and metals there.
    Could they not do this on a space ship too, extend polls in different directions each creating a small field.

  42. Fraiser Cain NASA is also looking into genetic engineering. They will be able to create astronauts in the future that can take more radiation than an ordinary human.

  43. The Apollo mission astronauts didn't need no stinkin radiation protection in their suits or the moduele and they were perfectly fine. A image of health as matter of fact and they passed directly through the Van Allen belts which is supposedly deadly.
    Radiation is just a figment of your imagination, apparently.

  44. The first humans to go to Mars will probably die of radiation overexposure and god knows what; despite all safety contingencies there are always surprises . Is it worth the sacrifice? Yes. We learn by firsthand experience.

  45. Why shield the whole ship? Why not just build a small area in the ship where the crew is and have that as a sort of radiation bunker? Would save time rather than having to assemble it out of supplies. We might want to rethink this idea that the entire ship needs a shield. Only the place where the crew is needs a shield.

  46. Q: why don't the Moon mission space suits block radiation?
    A: there was no radiation in space in the old days so didn't need it…!?

    Q: why aren't space suits used to clean up Nuke power plant spills?
    A: because, that would be stupid, space suits are just nylon movie props.

  47. Are you stupid??? Iron cores do not make it. Uranus and Neptune prove this. Water is gravitational itself. start there.

  48. I have come up with a 2 part radiation protection in both the rocket and the suit. 1 is EMF with graphene wire. 2 is an ion field that turns mid radiation into energy that is collected into a battery. The #2 I'm still working out the bugs on. [email protected]

  49. Hi Fraser… with the success of Starhopper – would you please do an undated follow up to this video, telling us how SpaceX intends to deal with space radiation for the upcoming Mars trip. Does Elon have a rabbit in his hat ?? (I hope : )

  50. Is there a Lagrange point, in the Jupiter system, which would be far enough away that Jupiter's own radiation would be manageable (for humans to survive), yet close enough to get protection from its magneto sphere? If so a space station there would serve as a good hub.

  51. Would the (sun/planet) lagrange point on the far side of any planet with a strong magneto sphere be positioned such that it would be shielded from solar radiation by the planet's magneto sphere?

  52. If i go to patreon do tou think you could help me with a story line… its bassiczlly about a ferrofluid cryonics storage of a head in space. If you can think of anyway it would be possible without radiation damage … my b storyline charactor does it cause its a cheap long term solution to keeping it at minus 270 or whatever space is

  53. so basically even 18 feet of sand all the way around a space station just equals the earths atmosphere. but magnetic fields are more effective..
    how many feet would equal the earths magnetosphere
    for lunar underground camps.. or astroid/comet communities..

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