Hills on Mars can protect against radiation


One of the main reasons why Mars will be extremely difficult to master is not only severe cold and lack of water, but primarily radiation. The planet does not have a magnetic field that could deflect radioactive particles flying from space, and there is no dense atmosphere that could detain these particles and prevent them from reaching the surface. And there is something not to let in: electrons, neutrons, protons, nuclei of any elements – everything that rushes at high speed through the darkness of space does not bode well for living beings. Therefore, if any flare on the Sun, spewing out streams of high-energy particles into the surrounding space, passes almost imperceptibly for the Earth, then for potential inhabitants of Mars it can turn into an excessive dose of radiation.

One of the ways to escape the harmful cosmic “rain” is to hide under the surface. On the one hand, digging holes or using natural caves or lava tubes as refuge is not a new idea. On the other hand, it doesn’t make much sense to fly to Mars and sit there all the time in an underground bunker. It’s like going on vacation to the sea and never leaving your hotel room, although … In general, while the apologists for the conquest of other planets are hatching plans for a man’s flight to Mars, other researchers are studying the conditions on the Red Planet, including the radiation situation.

The Curiosity rover, which has been cruising the Martian desert for more than nine years, has a RAD detector (Radiation Assessment Detector)… It collects data on the intensity of galactic cosmic rays and cosmic rays emitted by our sun. (The term “rays” here means a stream of high-energy material particles, not electromagnetic radiation, like X-rays.) But despite the fact that the average level of radiation on Mars has been measured for a long time, researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China, who analyzed data from detector RAD, managed to notice something interesting, which they talked about in their article in Geophysical Research Letters.

Curiosity has already wound more than 25 kilometers along the Martian firmament and during its long journey has visited different locations. For example, I drove through the Murray Hills, a hilly area on the outskirts of Mount Sharpe, located in Gale Crater. Since the hills obviously block part of the sky, the flux of cosmic rays arriving from space should be less than in open areas. Therefore, it is possible to calculate how much of the cosmic rays will not be allowed by hills and other elements of the Martian relief. According to these calculations, the RAD detector should have detected about 12% fewer high-energy particles when Curiosity “parked” near the Murray Hills.

However, in reality, this figure turned out to be much more modest – there were only 5% less cosmic rays. The researchers explained this fact by the fact that approximately 19% of the total radiation comes not from space, but from the surface of Mars. Having reached the surface, cosmic rays are capable of generating secondary radiation themselves, knocking out high-energy particles from atoms. That is, these are not “reflected” cosmic rays, but the result of their interaction with the Martian firmament. Most of the cosmic rays come “from above” (and, accordingly, they produce more secondary rays), while the hilly relief obstructs only a part of the rays that come at small angles to the surface and make a smaller contribution to this secondary background. Hence the effect of such shielding is very modest.

Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by www.nkj.ru.

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