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Cosmic Rays impact spaceship

  1. Feb 7, 2013 #1


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    Gold Member

    Hi all,

    I think this question goes best in this section, because I think the answer is something a nuclear or particle scientist could answer.

    In space, what would happen to a ship that did not have proper shielding from cosmic rays? (NOT the astronauts themselves; there is plenty of material on cosmic rays impacting them). I know the electronics would go out, and there would be secondary effects (cascades of particles). What would happen to the hull of the ship? What would happen to an engine if cosmic rays flooded into it? Would the ship melt away? Would there be flashes of ship like on a microwave?

    I know it depends on the materials, but I couldn't find even a single website on this subject. If you know how any material would transform macroscopically at all when constantly exposed to high energy particles, that would be great.

    A website or book with more info would help, too.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 7, 2013 #2


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    Staff Emeritus
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    NASA has done extensive studies on the interaction of solar and cosmic protons, alpha particles and heavier nuclei on spacecraft structural materials. High energy particle above a few MeV induce spallation reactions in which the incident particles knocks out nucleons from the target nuclei, e.g., (p,d) or (p,α) reaction. NASA's interest is understanding the nature of primary and secondary particle radiation fields in order to determine the best shielding for a given mission, particularly where astronauts are involved.

    Nuclear spallation by solar proton events and cosmic rays in the eROSITA and ATHENA focal plane configurations

    The International Space Station (ISS) with an altitude of 370 ± 40 km (230 ± 25 mi) is constantly bombarded by solar and cosmic particles (mostly protons), but not as harshly as geosynchronous/geostationary satellites at 35,780 km (22,234 mi), give or take.

    Besides changing the nuclei of atoms (thus altering the chemistry slightly), the radiation changes the microstructure of structural materials.
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