One of the problems with manned deep space travel is the amount of radiation astronauts will receive. While a mission to Mars won’t necessarily be fatal, the increased radiation from both the Sun and cosmic rays could pose some health complications, such as a bigger risk of developing cancer.
To combat this, it has been touted that future spacecraft could have a "safe room" surrounded in water to protect the astronauts. They would dive in here when an increased amount of radiation was incoming, such as from a solar flare. But CERN has other ideas. They have funded an experimental magnetic shield technology that could protect astronauts from health risks that could result from these long-haul flights.
In a statement, CERN scientists said that they were using magnesium diboride to create superconducting coils as part of the European Space Radiation Superconducting Shield (SR2S) project. This is the same conductor used in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
These coils would create an artificial magnetosphere around a spacecraft, which would deflect incoming particles – much like Earth’s magnetosphere protects us from harm. It’s not clear if the coils would surround the entire spacecraft, though; IFLScience has asked CERN for further details on the technology.
“In the framework of this project, CERN is testing magnesium diboride tape in a configuration that has specifically been developed for the SR2S project by Columbus Superconductors,” CERN scientist Amalia Ballarino said in a statement. “If the prototype coil we will be testing produces successful results, we will have contributed important information to the feasibility of the superconducting magnetic shield.”
In the coming months, the team will test a “racetrack coil” on Earth to see how effective the technology really is. CERN notes, though, that there are many more challenges that must be overcome before such a shield can be built, such as testing out and comparing a number of possible magnetic configurations.
But if it does prove successful, the technology could be essential for a future mission to Mars.