Supernova remnants are impossibly stunning. Exploding stars fling a ridiculous amount of energy out across the cosmos, giving us killer images like the one above.
But supernovae also send out extremely energetic charged particles, which can strike and damage cells. Ol’ Mother Earth protects us with a luscious atmosphere and powerful magnetic field, but deep space explorers aren’t so lucky. Astronauts traveling beyond Earth’s orbit are exposed to these powerful, star-born cosmic rays. So how do we protect them and evaluate the risks?
Well, clearly you can’t just send a person out into space and see how long it takes them to develop cancer. So what we work with at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory are many experiments with different cell types that we expose to this type of radiation here on Earth—and then we use a lot of mathematical manipulations to extrapolate our data into the health risks for people.
That’s molecular biologist Peter Guida in a great Popular Mechanics (popmech) interview on the threat to Mars explorers. Guida works at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory here at Brookhaven Lab, using our accelerators to safely simulate the ion beams blazing through deep space. Go read the whole thing.