Everyone seems to be focused on the possibility of expanding human life to Proxima b, the newly discovered planet relatively nearby. However, it’s not long ago that we humans fantasized about a day in which our neighbor Mars might be habitable. We’ve found signs of life there and it’s easy enough to travel to. Ask the astronauts, they do it all the time.
Yet it looks like living on Mars isn’t going to be as easy as we once thought either. The planet might be causing brain damage to humans who have traveled there.
Effects of Mars on the Brain
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Earth is the ideal place for humans to live. It has the perfect temperatures, the perfect atmosphere and perfect defense systems to protect us from the dangers of outer space. One such defense system is the magnetosphere, which protects against the large amounts of radiation coming toward us at any given moment.
They exposed the rats to charged particles and found that over time they began suffering from not only brain damage, but inflammation.
When you leave Earth, you leave that protection behind. Unfortunately, this is having some unintended consequences on astronauts who are devoting at least a year of their life traveling to Mars if not, much more. The radiation they are receiving is causing brain damage.
Scientists tested this on rats and found it’s true. They exposed the rats to charged particles and found that over time they began suffering from not only brain damage, but inflammation. Scientists also noted that the rats tended to exhibit far more anxiety and in particular began symptoms of chronic dementia.
Now in fairness, Mars isn’t totally to blame. It’s really just space and space travel that are causing the issue, though Mars itself doesn’t offer much in the way of a radiation shield either.
These negative effects could last for the rest of their lives.
“This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two-to-three-year round trip to Mars,” said professor of radiation oncology at UCI, Charles Limoli. “The space environment poses unique hazards to astronauts. Exposure to these particles can lead to a range of potential central nervous system complications that can occur during and persist long after actual space travel – such as various performance decrements, memory deficits, anxiety, depression and impaired decision-making.”
Limoli also stated that these effects could last for the rest of their lives. Six months after the exposure, there was still noticeable neural damage and inflammation in the rats.
Solutions to Space Travel
Is all hope lost? Is anyone looking to travel to Mars doomed to suffer from brain damage due to space radiation? Not quite. There are possible solutions.
One would be to add extra shields to the spacecraft carrying these passengers that could protect against some of the radiation. This wouldn’t entirely eliminate it, so there would still be some exposure, but perhaps it would lessen some of the negative effects. Another solution is to prescribe drugs to astronauts prior to travel that would protect against the incoming high-energy particles.
Luckily, this is nothing most humans will have to worry about. Hopefully for the sake of the astronauts and greater understanding of Mars, a solid fix is in the works.