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Colonising Mars Could Be More Dangerous Than Previously Expected, Warn Scientists

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Colonising Mars Could Be More Dangerous Than Previously Expected, Warn Scientists

Scientists and those in the know all seem to be in agreement; the next logical step in our progression as a species is to begin colonising other worlds and Mars is first on the list.

NASA is adamant it will have people there in 15-20 years, Elon Musk's SpaceX is rushing to strip back the costs of space flight in the hope of establishing a colony of no less than one million people in the near future, and both China and Russia also have plans to step onto Martian soil.

However, in spite of how promising that all sounds, scientists may have just spotted a drawback to this plan. It turns out sending manned missions to the red planet could spell certain death.

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Credit: Bloomberg

"One of our biggest challenges on a mission to Mars is protecting astronauts from radiation," said NASA Space Radiation Element Scientist Lisa Simonsen, PhD, according to Business Insider.

"You can't see it; you can't feel it. You don't know you're getting bombarded by radiation."

Here on Earth, our planet's magnetic field deflects a lot of cosmic rays. These high-energy atomic and subatomic particles get blasted out from exploding stars, black holes, and other powerful sources and can have terrible consequences for health.

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Because the International Space Station only orbits 250 miles above the Earth's surface, the risk is still relatively low for astronauts currently. However, venture further afield and they pose a much greater danger.

NASA logo
NASA logo

Credit: PA

Mars lost its magnetic field billions of years ago, which will expose the first Mars explorers to extra radiation.

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To assess the danger, health scientist Frank Cucinotta and his colleague Eliedonna Cacao at the University of Nevada Las Vegas re-examined the results of four previous studies of tumours in mice.

What they found was that as well as causing cancer by directly hitting cells, nearby cells could also turn cancerous as a result of cosmic radiation.

This domino effect means that explorers venturing to Mars could face a risk of developing cancer two times higher than previously thought.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk
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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hopes to establish a colony on Mars. Credit: PA

Private companies and space agencies are already racing to devise a solution to the problem.

Some at NASA have suggested deploying a satellite that could act as an artificial magnetic field, while an Israeli start-up is developing a body vest designed to fully absorb any harmful radiation.

However, the researchers also noted in their study that 'significant differences' exist between mouse-model cancer rates and those seen in humans, adding: "These differences could limit the applicability of the predictions described in [the] paper."

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"Studies... are urgently needed prior to long-term space missions outside the protection of the Earth's geomagnetic sphere."

Featured Image Credit: NASA

Topics: elon musk, mars

Michael Minay
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