Monday, November 12, 2012

Space radiation still presents major obstacle to further exploration of our universe

Space is indeed a final frontier like they say it in Star Trek series and movies. However, before conquering this final frontier human civilization will have to reach tremendous scientific and technological advancement. In this sense, a good first step would be to solve the issue of space radiation that would enable astronauts to go further in their exploration of the Universe.

Prior to being able to solve this issue scientists need to fully understand radiation in space environments and this can will require advanced instruments in space vehicles. One of these advanced instruments is also the device called Advanced Neutron Spectrometer (ANS).

ANS operates by monitoring neutrons. This is an instrument that is specifically designed to do just this. Measuring neutrons is important because it gives scientists the necessary data about the amount of radiation astronauts are being exposed to. This instrument can read levels of radiation in the spacecraft or habitat and according to this data astronauts can employ adequate techniques to minimize their exposure to space environment.

Technologically, it is very demanding to measure neutrons because they are electrically neutral particles and thus pass through most detector systems without being detected. This is the reason why ANS design had to be special. This special design uses the gate and capture technique that aims to slow down the neutrons and then capture them in an isotope of Lithium.

Afterwards, special glass fibers loaded with Lithium are used to absorb the slowed down neutrons and produce a small flash of light unique to the neutron capture process thus enabling ANS electronics to process and analyze the radiation levels.

The current results are very promising. Mark Christl, the ANS project leader at Space Flight Center said that „the goal is to continue this work to improve the instrument performance and our radiation monitoring capabilities for our astronauts and meet the future needs of exploring new destinations.“