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Magnetic bubbles could shield astronauts from radiation

Solar storms' dangers would lessen on long space trips

8:00am, June 30, 2014

SHIELDS UP  A small magnet in a laboratory deflects a jet of particles by forming a thin electric skin. The same principle could be applied to create deflector shields that protect spacecraft from solar radiation.

Deflector shields aren’t just for the starship Enterprise. One day, giant magnetic bubbles could protect spacecraft on long voyages.

By gathering charged particles floating through space, the bubbles could form a force field that flicks away radiation. If successful, the idea could offer scientists a solution to one of NASA’s stickiest problems: how to shield astronauts from harmful cosmic rays and solar eruptions.

Storms on the sun catapult charged particles into space at tremendous speeds, says plasma physicist Ruth Bamford of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, England. “If you’re on a spaceship in transit to Mars,” she says, “these charged particles can smash through the hull and smash your DNA.”

There are two ways to protect astronauts: shield them or shorten their travel times, says physicist Robert Winglee of the University of Washington in Seattle. In the 1960s and 1970s, Apollo astronauts avoided

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