Cosmic radiation

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Cosmic radiation (also known as cosmic rays) is created in deep space by strong electric and magnetic processes, stripping atoms down to the core and accelerating them to high velocities. Those high energetic particles reach the surface of Mars due to the very thin atmosphere. Like all other ionizing radiation it causes damage to material and health.

Point of origin

Cosmic radiation strikes bodies in the solar system from all directions, as they permeate the galaxy. They are made of the same particles in the same proportion as those originating from the sun; and are considered part of space weather.[1]. How they are created is debated, but being accelerating by matter falling into a black hole, or being created by supernova are two common explanations of their origins.

Mitigating Cosmic Rays:

Cosmic rays are blocked by planets, so people on a planet (or in close orbit around one), receive half the cosmic rays that you would in deep space. (The horizon blocks out half the sky, a bit more if you are in a valley.) Cosmic rays (and their Secondary radiation) will penetrate fairly deep thru earth and rock, so only by being deep underground can they be totally eliminated. Experiments on Earth which wish to avoid cosmic rays are done in mines more than 2,000 meters below ground.

That said, people receive cosmic rays everywhere on Earth. People living at high altitudes (which get a higher dose than those living at sea level) show no higher signs of health problems. So trying to eliminate all cosmic rays is impossible and futile. But habitats with a meter of water (or a half meter of soil) between people and the sky would reduce this radiation to levels approaching high altitude regions on Earth. See Radiation shielding for more details.

Acute effects on equipment

A single strike by a cosmic ray can cause three types of error in electronic equipment[1]:

Note that modern integrated circuits (with millions of tiny transistors), are more likely to be effected by cosmic rays than more primitive integrated circuits (with a few thousand large transistors). Native Mars electronic firms may chose to optimize their products for a higher radiation environment.

Chronic effects on equipment

To do

Acute effects on life

To do

Chronic effects on life

To do


  1. 1.0 1.1 W.K. Tobiska - The space environment in J.R. Wertz, D.F. Everett & J.J. Puschell eds. Space mission engineering: The new SMAD. 2011. pp. 127-137. ISBN 978-1-881883-15-9