back to article Forcefields will guard Mars ships from solar ion storms

A team of top boffins believe that they have cracked one of the main problems of interplanetary travel - that of surviving deadly solar radiation storms. The physicists say they have come up with an idea for a crafty forcefield which could stand off the protoplasm-punishing particle squalls of deep space. An image of the storm …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. TonyWilk
    Paris Hilton

    Self-powered forcefield generator

    For a Mars trip, you're mainly worried about just one source of radiation - you only need to protect against particles from the sun... so just tow a large Halbach cylinder of magnets. Nasty charged things headed for you will veer off as they traverse the field.

    Not quite so useful against killer krenon-ray wielding aliens tho'

    Paris? attractive and highly charged.

  2. Ian Moore


    "Even though the astronauts would be protected by the Martian atmosphere (and the planet itself) during their stay, "


    Mars has a tiny magnetic field so charged particles will not be deflected towards the poles as they are by Earth's. Also the atmosphere is so thin it will hardly form a shield of any effectiveness.

    A magnetic shield will be useless against gamma rays and neutrons.

  3. Kanhef

    Mars is not safe

    "Even though the astronauts would be protected by the Martian atmosphere (and the planet itself) during their stay"

    Mars has no magnetosphere, and the surface atmospheric pressure is about 1% that of Earth's, so there is a negligible amount of shielding from solar radiation. The best solution (on both Mars and the Moon) is to construct bases underground, rather than on the surface.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Andy Hunt
    Thumb Up

    Cold plasma force fields

    Cool. Any exploration of space would need some kind of protective shielding. Not only from radiation but also from micro meteors and particles. "Cold Plasma" held in a magnetic field is very impressive idea.

    Check out the article on Cold plasma force fieldsat;

  6. Roger Greenwood

    protoplasm-punishing particle squalls

    Beats the drizzle we usually get here in UK. Spot on Lewis.

  7. Christos Georgiou

    “Deep space”?

    How on Earth (off Earth, perhaps) can interplanetary space be called “deep space”?

  8. Rob

    Don't pooh-pooh it so early.

    It's not all theory. The scientists have actually produced one and theres video of it on the BBC site in action. Looks exactly how you'd expect it to.

    I have to say, the BBC report about this subject is actually more informative than the reg article which is a bit of a surprise, seeing how the BBC can't even use telephones correctly at the moment.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Cool. Shove on a few fridge magnets and you're on your way :-)

    Seems so obvious it's difficult to understand why they didn't try the experiment before, rather than assume one needed a large body to achieve it. Serious blind spot ?

  10. Efros
    Thumb Up

    And just when

    will this be available to the general population. Especially those who live in Glasgow, sounds like the ultimate raincoat to me. No more standing getting drenched in the pouring rain miserably waiting for the 59 to Mosspark, nope we will be able to stand there a laugh in the face of the storm and remain dry whilst awaiting our chariot to the South Side.

  11. Alistair

    Send in the robots

    No, really. The answer is to develop robot technology to the point where serious exploration of an extraterrestrial body is both practical and affordable. No point sending meatsacks out there and bringing them back at great expense.

    I for one would welcome our new metallic robotic interplanetary overlords.

  12. Lewis Page (Written by Reg staff)

    How does Mars protect you?

    First - the planet itself cuts off half the sky, halving the cosmic radiation input. That matters, because the thin Martian atmos doesn't stop many cosmic rays - unlike the situation on Earth. The planet itself also shields you from solar storms at night or when you are in shadow.

    Second - the Martian atmosphere, while thin, does reduce ordinary solar radiation significantly - it's a lot, lot better than just the hull of a spacecraft - though solar storms would still be a problem.

    That's how Mars protects you.

  13. Vincent

    Stupid question here...

    But what does "Boffins" mean? I'm assuming it's a scientist or a developer or something?

  14. Chris Thomas


    Did the explorers of old have such tiny balls? you want to come home?? You an explorer or a pansy, get in the boat, sail on whatever you can and if you survive you'll be a hero, if not, you'll be forgotten.

    is the only difference between then and now is that we "assess" the dangers and know too much about the dangers in order to grab our nuts, get in the boat and start rowing??

    Whats the problem with these people?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    From MerriamWebster:-

    Main Entry: bof·fin

    Pronunciation: \ˈbä-fən\

    Function: noun

    Etymology: origin unknown

    Date: 1945

    chiefly British : a scientific expert ; especially : one involved in technological research

    I don't understand why people have a problem with "boffin" it's been in British and US

    dictionaries for years..

    I don't see how Mars could protect you either, the wrapper just isn't thick enough and the

    delicious chocolatey interior would be unlikely to survive a significant period.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    As usual, Star Trek got there first

    Deflector dish. 'Nuff said.

  17. Anonymous Coward


    > No, really. The answer is to develop robot technology to the point where serious exploration of an extraterrestrial body is both practical and affordable.

    ... I really have been playing too much X3 lately -

    first thought "isn't that where the Xenon came from".

  18. Mike Crawshaw

    Learn from Marvel Comics!

    And drop the shields. The astronauts will come back with cool super-powers and stuff, just like the Fantastic Four did!

    Ah? The stretchy, rocky, flaming one that's invisible. Thanks.

  19. Phil Hare

    Stealth tanks

    I'm curious as to why the technology used to bend radiation around the alleged "stealth tanks" currently in development couldn't be modified for this purpose. But then again I have no idea what I'm talking about.

  20. Nic Brough

    Hardly news

    I'm terrified that it's taken these "boffins" so long to work out that a magnetic shield around a ship will provide some of the protection that the Earth's magnetic fields provide us groundhogs. It's mind numbingly obvious that our magnetosphere and 67 miles of atmosphere protect us from a lot of the high energy radiation out there.

    But it's nowhere near enough, and doesn't even begin to answer the problems of radiation exposure in space. Ships are going to need more than just a magnet for defense, and colonies are going to need a lot more again. At the moment, our only viable option for colonies on the moon or Mars are going to involve heavy layers of shielding, meaning metres of rock or water or slabs of heavy metal. Magnetic fields can help, but we've a long way to go.

    Shame though, I would like to see humans established on other planets, before we wipe ourselves off the face of this one.

  21. Robert Hill

    Bussard ramjet...

    Larry Niven penned his novel "Protector" in 1973, and wrote about how the Bussard ramjet's magnetic field shielded the ship and occupants from the solar wind and deep space cosmic radiation...

    And NOW in 2008 we finally get around to testing the idea?

    Seems like another case of fiction not being taken seriously in a certain Clancy novel.

  22. Yorkshirepudding


    shields up keptin?

    no Klingon battle cruisers in sight though

  23. Smallbrainfield

    Re: Deep space

    Yep, deep space should refer to any area outside the solar system, (beyond the perimiter of solar influence, whatever you want to argue that is). It's a long walk home, wherever it is.

    Shields up, Mr Sulu!

  24. Anonymous Coward


    You can't play too much X3.

    Well-known scientific fact.

  25. Luther Blissett

    The Exploding Plastic Inevitable

    Our memories get shorter and shorter as the pace of 21st century life gets faster and faster. So few can recall 1967. But in this case, think back just 1 Earth year. To what happened to Comet Holmes.

    I would lay odds on an Exploding Aluminium Inevitable.

    It is good to see Reg readers with a better grip of Mars basics than some of the people at NASA. A big hand for our spaced out friend amfM.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    It's the scale

    @ Nick Brough - it was previously only though to work at planetary scale

    Dr. Ruth is a big girl - I wouldn't pick a fight with her!

    Better post this anonymously -'cos she know where I live!

  27. jon

    Plasma radiation shielding

    Eric Hannah an associate of Gerry O'Neil first proposed the theory way back in the summer of 1975. Using an electrostatic field in conjunction with a magnetic one reduced the overall mass and strength of the magnetic field required. This moved the whole concept into the realm of where it was do able.. that is if you had the will do it. Magnetic shielding on its own is just to heavy to ever be practical.

    Now if we could just get to Earth orbit more often we would be halfway to anywhere.

  28. Schultz

    And they told me...

    that a magnetic necklace wouldn't protect me from <insert random medical condition here>. Should have believed that friendly email earlier, now the magnet prices must be bound skywards!

  29. Adam Boyt
    Jobs Horns

    Shield and Goo

    The following recollection here is 10 years things are getting hazy....

    The wife of a mate of mine was developing some weird goop at Cornell called Aerogel or something similar. Apparently it can't exist in an earth environment, only in space ( I can't remember what realm of space this was). It is supposedly really good for absorbing micro-particle impacts. The plan was to coat lunar / Martian buildings with it.

    Combine this with the shield and I think you would be mostly OK.


  30. Anonymous Coward

    Concrete....Lots of concrete...

    Pah! We shouldn't go down the high tech route, after all, NASA isn't with it's revamped Apollo 'cram a few guys on top of a big firework' approach, and do we need to mention good ol' Soyuz? There's an easy answer to the shielding question.

    Concrete! Yes, folks, good old concrete. We build a big ass, several metres thick concrete shield around our brave explorers space craft, clad it in lead for good measure and launch it at Mars. It doesn't need power like a new fangled shield (though bigger engines might be useful), and the materials are simple. Given the current crisis in the building sector, we even have adequate numbers of desperate construction workers to build it.

    Build the shield big enough, you could even look at Nuclear propulsion (on the opposite side to the crew, of course)......

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Nuclear propulsion? Hell yeah!

    Orion! Old bang-bang! Let's move a city to Mars in one go. And to Pluto. And to Alpha Centauri. And...

    As an added bonus, we'd get rid of anyone crazy enough to ride into space by setting off a nuke behind their arse. :-)

  32. dave
    Dead Vulture

    exposure ...

    "...radiation could be expected to use up much of an astronaut's lifetime exposure limit."

    Can there be a sensible limit to lifetime radiation exposure ?

    Even if you gave someone a hefty dose in the last minute of their life, they would be unlikely to er . . give a shit.

    This is not quite as bonkers as it seems. It is generally accepted that sending elderly astronauts to Mars would be a preferable, as they would be less likely to suffer from cancer as a result of their exposure during the trip. Not because of any special immunity, just because something else will probably get them first !

    A tombstone, I think.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021