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Thursday, March 13, 2003

Radiation Hazard Great on Mars

Map of radiation hazards on Mars.
Map of radiation hazards on Mars.
Credit: NASA/Space Radiation Health Project
A new release of information from scientists recapping the first year of readings from the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft shows that radiation dangers on Mars would cause severe harm to human life. Radiation on Mars is more harmful than the radiation that regularly bombards Earth because of the lack of a substantial magnetic field on Mars. The new data suggests that with a 3-year stay on Mars, an astronaut would receive their entire NASA-approved career dose of radiation. This threatens to put a severe damper on any human exploration of Mars.

However, all is not lost. Many simple methods can be used to stop radiation, especially if the astronauts are sent prepared. Dr. Robert Zubrin, president and founder of the Mars Society and Pioneer Astronautics, responded to thoughts on halting human exploration of space. "The idea [radiation] represents this incredible, forbidding obstacle to Mars exploration just isn't so."

This high level of radiation also is important to scientists looking for signs of life on Mars. With a high level of radiation present, the chances of life existing on the surface grow more and more slim. The most likely location for current life on Mars now is underground, where the combination of a lack of radiation, warm temperatures, and perhaps plentiful liquid water may be enough to sustain life. Unfortunately, underground is the most difficult place for NASA and the other space agencies of the world to look in. The job is probably best suited for human explorers who would be able to adapt to the conditions they find and be more versatile in their abilities.

It is also worth noting that the early stages of terraforming would cause a significant reduction in radiation exposure on the surface of Mars. The early stages of terraforming involve the thickening of the atmosphere significantly, which would stop a great percentage of the radiation now striking Mars. In fact, since the data was found by measuring radiation levels in orbit, it could be that the Martian atmosphere stops some of the radiation before it reaches the surface, protecting life. "It still remains to be seen what the hazards are on the surface," Odyssey project scientist Jeffrey Plaut said.

The report also revealed exciting new information about surface composition and other scientific studies.

(More info: The Mercury News,,

- posted by Brian @ 21:02 EST