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Sunday, 29 August 2021

Colonization of Mars: Martian cave entrances may offer a life-friendly radiation shield


The arrival of the first humans on the Red Planet, besides the journey itself, poses a major survival challenge. Mars is an extremely inhospitable planet for life, especially because of the large amount of radiation hitting its surface, the atmosphere being too fine to absorb harmful radiation. But there is a simple solution considered for some time, and which seems promising according to a new study: to exploit the Martian caves, or rather their entrances.

Mars has neither a global magnetic field nor a thick atmosphere like the Earth ... Its surface is therefore exposed to dangerous ultraviolet (UV) and ionizing radiation from the Sun, which poses a major problem for future human explorers. Anything living on the surface of the red planet would be exposed to doses of radiation 900 times higher on average than those to which it would be exposed on Earth.

However, images of the planet from orbit have shown what appear to be entrances to caves, and the insides of these caverns could be protected from those harmful rays. Daniel Viúdez-Moreiras at Spain’s National Institute for Aerospace Technology has now calculated how much UV radiation would still make it into different types of caves at various locations on Mars.

Martian caves: 98% less UV radiation

He found that in many cases UV radiation levels inside caves were around 2% of surface levels. These radiation levels are low enough to be relatively safe, but high enough to support organisms that need light to produce energy through photosynthesis.

However, It isn’t clear whether ionising radiation – which is potentially even more dangerous than UV – would be blocked out in the same way, but it is likely, according to Viúdez-Moreiras. “Ionising radiation doesn’t present exactly the same behaviour as UV radiation,” he says. “However, it is expected that ionising radiation will also be strongly attenuated in pit craters and cave skylights.”

The appeal of this finding is twofold: Caves can be safe places for human explorers to hide from extreme Martian surface conditions (including sandstorms), and they can also be some of the best places to research. signs of life on the red planet. No lander or rover has ever visited a Martian cave, but doing so would be the best way to find out if they are actually habitable, says Viúdez-Moreiras.

Reference:

The ultraviolet radiation environment and shielding in pit craters and cave skylights on Mars

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