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Study suggests Mars may be ‘too dangerous’ for human colonisation

Following a recent study, scientists recommend that no human expedition to Mars should surpass four years on account of its exceedingly high radiation.

Colonising the Red Planet has long been a source of obsession for billionaire tech tycoons like Richard Branson and Elon Musk, but the science suggests lengthy human expeditions may be off the table.

Researchers at the University of California have been testing the feasibility of living on Mars, not in terms of natural resources or terraforming logistics, but explicitly its levels of radiation and whether mankind would be safe to stay over long periods.

The team’s findings paint a very different picture to research from two years ago, which suggested humans may be able to reproduce on the planet. By contrast, the UCLA paper reveals that the impact of particle radiation may pose too great a threat to settle at all.

On Earth, our immense magnetic field and dense atmosphere protect us from the radiation risk induced by Solar Energetic Particles. On Mars, however, the thorny combination of a thin atmosphere and an ineffective magnetic field leaves the planet more exposed to space radiation.

The team ran simulations based on particle radiation from both the sun (SEP) and cosmic rays from the wider galaxy (GCR) at several geological points on Mars. Based on the readings, they regrettably recommend that humans spend no longer than four years on any Mars-related mission.

Beyond this point, they claim, radiation levels could become critically unsafe. ‘This study shows that space radiation imposes strict limitations and presents technological difficulties for the human mission to Mars,’ the journal reads.

‘We estimate that a potential mission to Mars should not exceed approximately four years.’

In order to reach this conclusion, SEP and GCR models were used to measure ‘radiation propagation’ inside both a spacecraft and air curtain.

They discovered in the case of the former scenario that a vehicle shielding of 30g/cm2 is ideal. Anything beyond this thickness could reportedly increase secondary radiation and reduce the safety window.

While this intelligence may represent a significant setback in the mission to colonise Mars, there is an upside to the experiment: we now know the optimal time to proceed.

From the collected data, the team have confidently ratified that the safest period to launch any human flight to Mars is during the ‘solar maximum’.

This essentially means that when the sun is most active, fluxes of solar particles will more effectively scatter SEP creating a sort of safety barrier for cosmonauts.

Nevertheless, even under these preferable circumstances, the maximum duration of any mission should still remain under the allotted 48 months.

For all Musk’s endeavour and enthusiasm on his one-man crusade, you can’t avoid the science. Realistically, it seems we’re still a ways off cracking this one.