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18:17 19 November 04
NewScientist.com news service
Astronauts could one day be protected from harmful cosmic rays during a long haul spaceflight by a powerful magnetic bubble generated by their own craft.
A new project to investigate the possibility of fitting spacecraft with a “magnetosphere” of their own, underway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, recently received a cash boost from the NASA-funded Institute for Advanced Concepts.
Jeffrey Hoffman, an ex-astronaut who leads the project, envisages generating a magnetic shield using a superconducting magnet installed aboard a ship.
Astronauts are currently protected from cosmic radiation during a spaceflight by materials coating the outside of a craft which absorb the rays. But this material is typically extremely heavy, so a portable magnetic field could be a more efficient solution.
"Calculations show that using magnets would have benefits," Hoffman told New Scientist. A magnetic shell could protect a craft from cosmic radiation by deflecting away harmful cosmic particles.