As many of you already know space radiation is a huge problem. Aside from the fact that it can melt your brains faster than a mini-series upon Hulu, space radiation (whether from stars, black holes or planets) can limit the number of terrestrial worlds we can settle within our solar system.

While artificial magnetic shields could enable humanity to set foot upon the spheres that orbit Sol Star, it might be wiser to bend radiation around our future homes and ships instead.

Theory says that gamma rays, being even more energetic than x-rays, ought to bypass orbiting electrons altogether; materials should not bend them at all and the refractive index for gamma rays should be almost equal to one. Yet this is not what a team of physicists led by Dietrich Habs at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany and Michael Jentschel at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, France, has discovered.


ILL is a research reactor that produces intense beams of neutrons. Habs, Jentschel, and colleagues used one of its beams to bombard samples of radioactive chlorine and gadolinium to produce gamma rays. They directed these down a 20-meter-long tube to a device known as a crystal spectrometer, which funneled the gamma rays into a specific direction. They then passed half of the gamma rays through a silicon prism and into another spectrometer to measure their final direction, while they directed the other half straight to the spectrometer unimpeded. To the researchers’ surprise, as they report in a paper due to be published this month in Physical Review Lettersgamma rays with an energy above 700 kiloelectronvolts are slightly bent by the silicon prism. (ScienceNOW)

Even though developing, perfecting and applying the technology upon a future outpost is probably over half a century away at best, finding a way to bend deadly radiation around a future space  settlement could enable colonists to live upon the surface of  “moderately” radioactive worlds like (Luna, Mars and Ganymede) instead of underground.

It could also enable starships to travel throughout our Sol System without fear of encountering a deadly solar storm or random radiation via a black hole.

Although future space settlers in the near term will probably adopt heavy shielding and magnetic shields as their new best friends, bending radiation around settlements, starships and (one day in the distant future) space suits could allow us to visit deadly worlds such as Europa in person (instead of via our robotic friends).

(Hat tip: Engadget)

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