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Cracks in the Solar Shield

The Earth is surrounded by a magnetic shield that protects us from solar radiation. The problem is, it can leak. Researcher Harald Frey says, "We've discovered that our magnetic shield is drafty, like a house with a window stuck open during a storm. The house deflects most of the storm, but the couch is ruined." Can we safely colonize Mars, which does not have a shield to protect us from the sun? Only if we're careful.

Frey says, "Our magnetic shield takes the brunt of space storms, but some energy slips through its cracks, sometimes enough to cause problems with satellites, radio communication, and power systems." Also, our radiation shield is weaker than usual at the moment, just when solar storms are at their height, because our magnetic poles are in the process of flipping.

Colorful auroras, also known as Northern Lights, are one sign that a crack has developed. During times of high solar activity they can be seen much further south than usual. While auroras are usually seen in Canada and Alaska, on November 20th, people in the U.S. saw them in every state except Hawaii.

Knowledge about our solar shield brings up a question: can we be safe in space? Solar radiation bombards the International Space Station regularly, and some of it gets through to the astronauts inside. But astronauts would be exposed to twice as much radiation on Mars as they get on board the ISS.

In bbcnews.com, Richard Black quotes Cary Zeitlin, of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, as saying, "The dose [an] astronaut would receive on a Mars mission is large enough to be beyond what they've experienced in Earth orbit?People are going to the space station for about six months. A Mars mission would last around three years. And it's the duration of the exposure that becomes the issue?This radiation could perhaps lead to more cancers, more cataracts and nervous system damage." They might need to build shelters underground in order to survive.

What happens when we develop cracks in our perception of the world, as new knowledge sinks in? Reading William Henry can change your view of the world forever. Don?t miss Whitley's interview with him on Dreamland this week!

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