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Cosmic radiation makes Mars dangerous for humans

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Increased levels of cosmic rays in outer space may make it dangerous for future manned missions to Mars.

Space exploration has enticed humans for long, and many have dreamed of reaching the stars. After humans successfully landed on the moon, space agencies also began exploring possibilities of visiting the Red Planet.

Various organizations such as the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have successfully sent orbiters to Mars. Some rovers are also exploring the surface of the Red Planet, but a manned mission has yet to be undertaken.

There are nations with plans to send humans to Mars. However, the discovery of increased cosmic radiation in outer space may make it risky for humans to land on the surface of the Red Planet, which puts a question mark over the feasibility of such mission.

Cosmic rays are high-energy radiation with the ability to penetrate any known material. Extended exposure to cosmic rays may produce cancers and also damage organs. Cosmic radiation is normally partially deflected by the magnetic field of the sun. However, astronomers have found that the magnetic field of the sun has hit the lowest level. This could result in increased cosmic radiation.

Currently, an astronaut aged 30 years can spend about 400 days in space during high solar activity, compared to 300 days during low solar activity. With increased cosmic radiation, the time spent in space by humans is estimated to reduce by 20 percent.

Scientists suggest that it can take up to a year for a spacecraft from Earth to reach Mars and then return. If the allowable time spent in space is reduced, then the whole duration of the journey may become dangerous for humans traveling to Mars.

"While these conditions are not necessarily a showstopper for long-duration missions to the moon, an asteroid, or even Mars, galactic cosmic ray radiation in particular remains a significant and worsening factor that limits mission durations," says Nathan Schwadron, associate professor at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space and the department of physics at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Technology is, however, improving in all fields. Scientists hope to build spacecraft that can travel faster and withstand cosmic radiation for a longer time to make manned missions to Mars possible.

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