NASA creates a “cosmic ray gun” to study the potential impact of space radiation on living things

Thanks to the atmosphere and magnetic fields, life on Earth can greatly avoid the effects of cosmic rays. However, when exploring in space, space agencies must think carefully about their health hazards. If one day we’re going to do a long study on the moon or Mars, we can’t ignore the potential threats posed by wild cosmic rays. With this in mind, NASA has built a research machine that can emit high-energy beams of particles — the “cosmic ray gun” for short.

(Photo from: NASA)

Prolonged exposure to space radiation (GCR) can cause irreversible damage to the body’s DNA and brain and even affect the normal biological function of cells. Unfortunately, there is still very little knowledge of the current research.

NASA’s new “cosmic ray gun” is designed to simulate the potential impact of space radiation on living things. In Tuesday’s issue of the journal PLoS Biology, the agency said it ushered in a new era in the study of radiobiology in space.

Cosmic rays are known to contain a variety of high-energy particles mixed with protons, helium ions, and heavy ions such as carbon and iron, and NASA has taken a keen interest in the interaction of different particle mixtures in GCR with spacecraft/human bodies.

The so-called “cosmic ray gun” is actually closer to a “particle accelerator”. It is able to lift particles to extremely high levels of energy in a very short time and then control in the lab how the GCR beam passes to the target area.

(Research drawings)

“With models such as the space environment, radiation physics, and human geometry, we have estimated the magnitude of the particles and their energy that rush to the brain, liver and lungs, and other important organs of the human body,” said Lisa Simonsen, n.R., a space radiation researcher at NSRL and author of the paper.

NASA began its first experiments in 2018 and is currently evaluating the amount of acute and chronic radiation that can be sustained in mice, but the final results have not yet been announced.

By quickly switching different 60 x 60 square centimeter radiation sources, the device can more closely mimic the space environment. In addition to biological research, the experiment could also help improve the spacecraft’s radiation-proof penetration design.