The Effects of Solar Radiation

The word ‘radiation’ has to do with energy or matter moving through space. Space radiation affects astronauts when an amount of radiation gets through the walls of a space shuttle or station and enters the body. Solar radiation usually affects astronauts walking in space, outside of their space shuttles, but sometimes it can even affect the people on Earth, causing electricity failures. Many people – astronauts mostly- fear the consequences of solar radiation, due to the fact that solar radiation can cause dangerous effects to one’s health. Even though sometimes the effects are so minor, you can barely tell that they are there.

For astronauts, space radiation effects have to do with the amount of radiation that get through the walls of the space shuttle or space station and enter into the body of the astronaut. Most people have a major fear of radiation and its effects. No matter where you live, you receive a free dose each day of environmental radiation which adds up to 360 millirems per year, and you have no control over this. During the Apollo program, there were several near-misses between the astronauts walking on the surface of the Moon and a deadly solar storm event.

The Apollo 12 astronauts walked on the Moon only a few short weeks after a major solar proton flare would have bathed the astronauts in a 100 rem blast of radiation. Another major flare that occurred half way between the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 moonwalks would have had a much more deadly outcome had it arrived while astronauts were outside their spacecraft. Within a few minutes, the astronauts would have been killed on the spot with an incredible 7000 rem blast of radiation. Some of the more minor effects are unnoticeable.

The effect of solar radiation is based on the weather in space. Therefore, it varies. You wouldn’t want to be caught outside in space when a space storm begins! The direct effects of solar flares are mainly related to most wireless and radio transmissions. Solar flares are often associated with “coronal mass ejections”, the ejection of electrons, protons and ions from the Sun. These articles have some other effects on Earth. The Earth has a natural protection against these charged particles: its magnetic field and atmosphere that blocks most of them.

However, very little amounts of charged particles still enter the Earth’s atmosphere. For those of us that spend most of our time on the ground, the magnetic field and the atmosphere block out almost all of the harmful radiation and charged particles. This is not the case when you go up in the atmosphere. Airline pilots that fly at great altitude, and especially near the poles, are exposed to more of these. The same goes for astronauts. This results in a higher incidence of cancer among airline pilots and cabin crew.

Basically, the higher you go towards the Earth’s atmosphere, the more you’re in risk of being hit by solar radiation. Whenever space weather turns bad and a solar storm is approaching, we have to begin to take action to protect our satellite and technological resources. The first indication that space weather has worsened usually is a spectacular aurorally display in Arctic regions. When the solar wind hits the Earth’s magnetic field, electrons and protons inside the field are accelerated into currents that flow along the thin magnetic field lines and converge on the Polar Regions.

Soon after this, satellite can start to experience problems as energetic particles pass through them and begin to disrupt their operation. The effects on astronauts – and humans vary from being very major and dangerous to small and minor. The major effects can be deadly and may kill you on the spot. If not, it would harm your health and probably give you some sort of disease. The minor effects are very small, and barely noticeable. There were many dangerous consequences to the Apollo astronauts if they were outside at the precise time when there were many solar storms.

The higher you fly towards the Earth’s atmosphere – or out of it, the more you’re at risk of getting solar radiation. The people on Earth have to protect our satellite and technological resources when a solar storm is coming. You can tell a storm is coming because there is a aurorally display in the Arctic regions. Getting solar radiation also means that it could affect you in a dangerous, even deadly way. This is why most people are afraid to go to space, but some people are brave and go to expand our knowledge on space.

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