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Space Technology Science

Experimental Magnetic Shield Against Cosmic Rays 199

stiller writes "British scientists from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory have developed an experimental set-up in which a $20 magnet is used to deflect solar-wind-like radiation." Reader Dersaidin points out a slightly more enthusiastic article at Universe Today which emphasizes the possibilities of systems based on this phenomenon to protect astronauts during solar storms, writing "It's a good start. Hopefully, later versions will be able to protect spaceships from energy weapons. A beam from the LHC can melt a 500kg block of copper. Shields, check. Energy weapons, check. Now we just need a viable interstellar drive, and an energy source to power it all."
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Experimental Magnetic Shield Against Cosmic Rays

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  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:14PM (#25628739) Homepage Journal

    Did anyone else misread the title?

  • Make the drive coils out of uranium and power it with allotropic iron.
    Of course, you will have to give the ship a good British-sounding name like "The Dentless".

    ANd remember to really reinforce the breech shielding on the Q-Gun.

    • I believe that was "Dauntless", actually. Just keep an eye out for the Bosconians and zwilnicks.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by WinPimp2K ( 301497 )

        Well I said "something like", there was a nifty short parody that was set on "The Dentless"

        I think it was the Brittania that had the dangerously low shielding on the Q-gun breech. She survived firing it only once, but once was enough even if she was then hunted down and destroyed (booby-trapped self-destruct actually) by the Boskonians. Later Q-Gun designs beefed up the breech shielding considerably - a 20 mile long column of duodec combustion gas was nothing to sneer at.

        The Dauntless was the next big ship

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      As for the drive, I have always liked the idea of speaker powered drives. So we would attach a pair of Texas sized Pioneer speakers to the back of our space ship, and turn on some heavy, low frequency bass music. Of course we would need a 9364474 joule amp to drive it. It might how ever, take the biosphere off the planets we pass.
  • Does this remind any one of deflector shields from Scorched Earth?
    • Love that game! :) Also loved the original DOS version years ago.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by vadim_t ( 324782 )

        You should try Scorched 3D [scorched3d.co.uk], then.

        Very good remake. Good graphics, runs on pretty much any hardware, Linux and Windows version, multiplayer. And seeing half the island disappear after firing something very overkill is really awesome.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by WinPimp2K ( 301497 )

      Nope, but it sounds exactly like the magnetic radiation shielding used in a sci-fi juvie from the 80's or 90's. It was set in the moons of Jupiter and the characters used small open "shuttles" that had magnets placed on the frame around the passengers. This protected them from radiation in the Jovian system.

      • Re:Prior Art (Score:4, Interesting)

        by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @03:13PM (#25630903)

        I was looking for a serious thread to reply to, but it seems this topic attracts more kidding than science. =p

        Anyway, my college plasma physics professor, a decade ago, told us that he'd invented the "force field". It created a magnetic shield around an object in a vacuum, and was intended to protect things like satellites from charged particles. (For obvious reasons discussed below he didn't go into detail.)

        His work was funded by the U.S. Air Force, who promptly took the patent and classified it. In other words, this was invented about 15 years ago, and this guy might have just made it public, but he's likely not going to get a patent to protect his invention since it will be rejected.

        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          Assuming it's done the same way.
          Of course based on my experience with the military and satellites, it sounds like crap.

  • USS Liberty (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:17PM (#25628795) Homepage

    I suggest mounting a standard generator at the core of the prospective space ship and attaching a coffin containing one of our founding fathers to it. The rapid spinning should provide plentiful power for all manner of techno-gadgetry.

  • by Coraon ( 1080675 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:22PM (#25628899)
  • by Dekortage ( 697532 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:22PM (#25628923) Homepage

    Anyone else remember that awful sequel [imdb.com]?

  • As long as we're not venting drive plasma, we're good to go.

    That is, unless somebody left a sweater in one of the warp plasma conduits.

  • by MaxwellEdison ( 1368785 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:25PM (#25628981)
    According to TFA this thing uses about as much energy as an electric kettle, Does this mean British astronauts will need to choose between the two? I can see it now, a mustachio'd astronaut (in my mind I imagine him an old RAF captain) hovering over the button and staring at the kettle. Agonizing over the decision before muttering 'To the Queen' and putting the kettle on.

    This brings up a larger issue to me...how well does tea steep in zero G, And would there be a difference between an Earl Grey blend or a black tea blend?
    • by Amazing Quantum Man ( 458715 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:31PM (#25629105) Homepage

      Well, obviously for the Earl Grey, you have to say "Hot", as in "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot", or it comes cold.
      For the black tea blend, you get a cup of a drink that's almost but not quite entirely unlike tea.

    • by dpilot ( 134227 )

      If you're hovering over a kettle, you may as well brew up a really hot cup of tea, and let your Infinite Improbability Drive get you out of harm's way. Either that, or thr Drive will turn the radiation storm into music, and you can protect yourself with earplugs. For that matter, if the tea is *really* hot, you can specify that the music be "Silence" by Phillip Glass, and skip the earplugs.

      I doubt tea would steep well in zero G, because there would be no natural convection. Ordinary stirring is a no-no,

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        Ah, but would such a tea stirring device add further energy calculations necessary to the question of putting on the kettle or preventing an agonizing death due to ionizing radiation. . . Also if it were attached to the ship the rotational force from such a device would eventually set about making the whole craft spin, or require more energy to counteract the spin. And thats not even beginning to touch the issue of crumbless biscuits! My fellows! We have much sciencing to do!
        • by dpilot ( 134227 )

          You bring up a good point that I hadn't thought about. I remember during the space-race days as a kid, that they talked about the special tools necessary for zero-G because gravity wouldn't hold you fast to torque against something. So clearly it can't be any ordinary spoon. In addition to the more gentle stirring action, it's got to be a "zero-reaction" spoon, or a pair of mini-spoons going in opposite directions, to impart no net torque to the stirrer. The means for the stirrer to actuate the thing ha

          • The whole system has to be zero torque... you can get around that problem by holding the pot/cup in your hand as you stir.

            • by dpilot ( 134227 )

              But if it's a *really* hot cup of tea, you're going to need a very well insulated mug.

      • While it may be reduced, there still would be convection as the boundaries of the water lose heat to the container.

        • by dpilot ( 134227 )

          But the essence of thermal convection is the difference in density driven by the heat. That difference allows gravity to drive the convection. No gravity and the regions of differen density will just sit in place.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PearsSoap ( 1384741 )

      how well does tea steep in zero G

      I don't know, but you can drink it with chopsticks. [nasa.gov]

  • by Cyclopedian ( 163375 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:25PM (#25628987) Journal

    Shields, check. Energy weapons, check. Now we just need a viable interstellar drive, and an energy source to power it all.

    No, what we need is a strong hull that can withstand all the micro-meteoriods hitting it at 27,000+ mph.

    I recommend getting a General Products #2 hull.

    • Re:Checklist... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Mistshadow2k4 ( 748958 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:56PM (#25629569) Journal
      And the one thing people keep forgetting: a power source. Or are we going to have the crew constantly peddling a bicycle to generate electricity? Which raises a question no one seems to be able to answer; do we need to deflect cosmic rays and solar radiation, or absorb it for use as energy to power the ship's tech?
      • The problem is that you need several feet of a very dense material to "absorb" cosmic rays.

        • Good point, but if the ship never enters the atmosphere of a planet, does it really matter how thick the material needs to be? Of course, then you have to work out how the crew can get on a planet, if there is no "beaming" tech -- mini-ships? Space elevators? Hmmmm.
  • hot stuff (Score:2, Funny)

    by fyoder ( 857358 )

    Now we just need a viable interstellar drive, and an energy source to power it all.

    Then it's all alien babes from here to the farthest star! Warp factor exosex, Scotty, all power to the engines!

  • by jmcwork ( 564008 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:26PM (#25629003)
    No hope of becoming one of the Fantastic Four. Bummer.
  • by gardyloo ( 512791 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:27PM (#25629021)

    A beam from the LHC can melt a 500kg block of copper.

    Technically, if things are set up, any continuous source of energy can melt just about anything meltable. Just keep the energy flowing, insulate the target, and if the temperature of the energy source (e.g. a lightbulb) is higher than that of the target, then energy will couple in and eventually melt the target. What needs to be mentioned if such a statement is to be of any use, is how long such melting is expected to take.

    • by daniel_newby ( 1335811 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:36PM (#25629189)

      What needs to be mentioned if such a statement is to be of any use, is how long such melting is expected to take.

      According to this CERN page [web.cern.ch], in the few microseconds that it takes a beam dump to complete. The circulating kinetic energy of the beam is an impressive 350 MJ, equivalent to running a 1000 watt heater for 97 hours.

    • I agree with what you're saying.
      But what they could be talking about -- something that's actually a useful metric -- is whether the energy source can get energy into a material faster than it can conduct the heat away. It's comparatively easy to drill a hole in a thermally insulative material with a laser, but much harder with copper. So if they want to make an impressive statement, they probably should make it clear (to those of us who care) that this thing can dump energy in, faster than any material ca

      • TFA did exactly that. One of them, at least. This one: http://spectrum.ieee.org/aug08/6558 [ieee.org]

        In experiments, researchers found that an 86-microsecond exposure of the beam would bore a hole 40 meters into a block of copper.

        That's pretty significant energy. Admittedly, it's probably a fairly small hole, but it does a good job of explaining why the beam needs to be diffused and scattered as it's being dumped into a block of graphite.

        • The high-power laser systems I've worked with weren't anywhere nearly as intense as this beam, obviously, but the beam dump still cost a fair bit since it was consumable, so we went with cheap. We used a brick set at a very low angle to maximize the surface area exposed to the beam. We'd go through (in a couple meanings of 'go through') a brick a day. Still, cheaper than copper or graphite.

    • s how long such melting is expected to take.

      Presumably, about the time it takes light to travel 27km, since the beam can't be longer than the circumference of the collider and the beam is near light speed.

    • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:49PM (#25629429) Homepage

      What needs to be mentioned if such a statement is to be of any use, is how long such melting is expected to take.

      That's a very good point, and to answer the question raised by it I RTFAed so you don't have to! Regarding the "dump block" that they use to absorb the LHC beam before it becomes unstable:

      The 10-ton graphite cylinder is encased in 1000 metric tons of steel and concrete. Why not just make the whole thing out of lead or another heavy metal? It turns out that graphite is the only material whose low density and high melting point can resist the ravages of the proton beam. In experiments, researchers found that an 86-microsecond exposure of the beam would bore a hole 40 meters into a block of copper.

      Emphasis added. That's one hell of a beam.

      BTW, I can't help but recall that the Enterprise D from ST:TNG fires its phasers from a large ring on the saucer section. You can almost imagine the LHC being weaponized and using the same technique that diverts the beam into the dump block to direct it outward towards enemy ships. Though it'd have the rather significant drawback that any damage anywhere on the enormous accelerator ring would take out the weapon. But hey, energy beam!

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Of course, the problem with weaponizing this would be creating a vacuum to the target... the beam would simply collide with atmospheric particles and dissipate. If used in space... well, once we shoot down all the satellites... what's left? I would hope that by the time we are a spacefaring race we would have better weapons. How else will we battle the Kligons or the Cyclons or whatever your favourite space races are.
      • yeh, trouble is you'd only need a saucer section with a 27km circumference and hope that you got the first hit in, which as you know is impossible because you've always got to let the bad guys blast you so you can stagger from side to side while sparks fly out a console.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Kreigaffe ( 765218 )

          Maybe, maybe not.

          Maybe we're in the alternate universe, where the Federation was evil.

          The theory bears scrutiny. Haven't you noticed the popularity of goatees?

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        I couldn't find exact specs on the LHC, but I suspect there are lots better ways to get destructive energy from my ship to your ship. Even if you insist on an energy beam, I suspect traditional lasers would be more efficient and would also be immune to your puny shields.

    • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:51PM (#25629475) Journal
      reposted from below (with corrections) in the comments, since my comment belongs here in response to your comment:

      FTA, testing showed a 1.5 mm beam "burnt" 40 meters into a block of copper in 86 microseconds.

      So... napkin calculation...

      .15 cm * 4000 cm == 600 cm^2.

      density of copper is about 9 g/cm^2, so 5600 grams of copper melted per .86 microsecond beam burst.

      500 lbs =~ 227 kg, so roughly forty 86 microsecond bursts to melt 500 lbs...

      So we're talking roughly 3.5 milliseconds to melt 500 pounds of copper.

      That's 70 tons of copper melted per second for a single beam. That's a hell of a lot of energy, but I'm not sure what the standard unit is for energy/time (hiroshimas is just energy; libraries of congress and football fields obviously don't apply). Anyone know what the standard made-up unit is for energy/time?
      • Anyone know what the standard made-up unit is for energy/time?

        Energy/time is Power. I don't know if there's a standard, but if not I nominate Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters.

        That's ~4.9 GW, btw.

        • ~300 kJ to melt 0.0635 kg (1 mole) of copper.

          Did the calcs... roughly 87 MW... not even close to the power of one SSRB.

          Can you come up with something a little lestt powerful?
        • That's ~4.9 GW, btw.

          Waaaay too much. You'll blow the flux capacitor. You only need to channel one point twenty one of them....

      • .15 cm * 4000 cm == 600 cm^2. density of copper is about 9 g/cm^2,

        Why cm^2 (square centimeters), not cm^3? It should be 0.15 * 0.15 * PI * 4000 cm = 282 cm^3. so 2544g of copper per 0.86 of millisecond.
        This gives 76ms to melt 227kg of copper.

        • Ah, you're referring to the hypothetical z-axis of the third dimension.

          Thanks for catching the error.

          So it's only about 3 tonnes melted copper per second... still a lot of power.
      • I would guess 100W lightbulbs would do the job.

        350 MJ in 86 us = 4 070 000 MJ in 1 s = 4.07 TW

        40.7 billion 100 W lightbulbs.

        More than 6 each for everyone on earth.


        But only for 86 us at a time every 10 hours. I get 10 kW for the mean power requirement assuming it is constantly charging. That is only 100 lightbulbs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by rcw-home ( 122017 )

        Anyone know what the standard made-up unit is for energy/time?

        Watt? Horsepower? Michael Phelps? NSA datacenter electricity usage? Total solar output?

      • "Hoover Dams" are the units used to represent such things as the power output of the Shuttle main engines. Other popular ones are "enough to light N,000 homes" and "equivalent to N nuclear power stations" (always nuclear, for some reason).

        Melting copper takes 13.050 kJ/mol. A mole of copper is 63.546 grams. We'll drop everything to two significant figures, which is probably already more precise than the rest of the numbers. 70 tons is one million moles, so melting 70 tons per second is 13E12 J/sec, 13 teraw

      • Math Nazi Time.... (Score:4, Informative)

        by maz2331 ( 1104901 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @03:21PM (#25631041)

        Uh, some math errors exist in some of the parent posts.

        A 1.5mm diameter beam that is 40 meters long has a volume given by:

        V = pi * r^2 * d

        If r and d are in cm, then:

        V = pi * (0.15/2)^2 * 400
        V = pi * 0.005625 * 400
        V = 7.07 cm^3.

        At 9 g/cm, this gives a mass of 63.2 grams.

        If we're melting/vaporizing this much in 86 uS, that gives a rate of

        63.2 / 0.000086 = 734,883.72 g/s (or 1,620.14 lb/s).

        It's still a bunch of melted (actually, vaporized) copper, but it's nowhere near 70 tons.

        All the above assumes that the beam stays perfectly coherent and doesn't have any losses due to heating of surrounding material. In reality, the beam would rapidly diverge, and heat would begin to flow through the copper. Oh, also, ejected copper plasma would at some point begin to interfere with the beam itself before it reached the copper itself. This would rapidly de-focus the beam and absorb energy, so the plasma ejecta would get oh-my-god hot while shielding remaining copper from being damaged.

    • According to the article, the 1.5mm beam (already diffused from the original 0.2mm beam) can penetrate 40 meters (around 130ft) into solid copper in 86usec.

    • the LHC is not a continuous source. You'll run out of particles in the main ring after about 90 microseconds.

  • by PhrostyMcByte ( 589271 ) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:29PM (#25629053) Homepage
    up next: Monster Gold Diamond HDMI cables with Cosmic Ray protection.
  • Space elevator (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Fun Guy ( 21791 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:38PM (#25629205) Homepage Journal

    When the space elevator eventually gets built, passengers are going to need something to protect them from the radiation in the Van Allen Belts. Rather than hauling a bunch of passive shielding up and down, these isomagnetic shields would be pretty useful.

    Power would come from the same source that drives the climber (whatever that is...).

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      or a 6 inch hull; which you will need anyways.

      Yes, I can't wait for it to fall, won't that be fun~

  • Seems like this could also be useful for protecting Earth-based computers from the occasional cosmic ray that makes it through the atmosphere and the magnetosphere. At least, if the magnetic field doesn't interfere with their operation just by itself.
  • This is an approach that's been worked on for years and years now, and there hasn't been any rapid progress. Electromagnetic shielding may ultimately work, but it has a lot of problems to overcome. Without some kind of significant technological progress, the radiation dose for astronauts going to Mars is a real showstopper: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_threat_from_cosmic_rays [wikipedia.org]

    Engineers have studied a variety of electromagnetic field configurations for this. Electric fields have a problem because any

    • by mblase ( 200735 )

      normal superconductors need liquid helium temperatures, which are very hard to maintain reliably,

      Although in outer space, surely that's less of a problem?

      Yes, I know about factors like engine heat, the need to keep critical mechanical components above a certain temperature a la the Mars landers, and so forth. But shouldn't it still be easier to maintain superconducting temperatures in deep space?

    • A couple of years ago there was an article in Scientific American that reviewed all of the known technologies (including magnetic, electrostatic, and thick materials) to shield astronauts from space radiation on interplanetary missions. They found that none of them would work in the foreseeable future. Their rather depressing conclusion was that the best bet would be to develop drugs that work to repair radiation damage.

      IIRC, they said that a astronauts on a quick Mars mission would probably survive, but th

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      "If they're superconducting, then you're trusting your life to a type of technology that's notoriously prone to failure"

      Why didn't someone tell me? There are at least half a dozen of those things in this very building, two of which are directly over my head! Not one of them has failed in the last six years, but that just means we're overdue, right?

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      From the link it doesn't sound like such a showstopper. They estimate a Mars mission might expose astronauts to 500 to 1000 mSv. 1 to 4 Sv is the recommended career dose for LEO astronauts. If you got your whole 500 mSv dose very quickly, instead of over three years like on a Mars mission, you might expect some slight and temporary changes in blood chemistry. Over the three years that dose would produce no acutely observable effects.

      So it's probably a bad idea to go to Mars more than half a dozen times,

  • "Now we just need a viable interstellar drive, and an energy source to power it all."

    We just need an interstellar drive now. Oh, that and someone to teach that pink bunny how to pilot the ship, after all, his back is going to be plugged into the warp drive.


  • the new "in" fashion statement amongst the crackpots will be magnets tied to your head to protect from alien radiation?

  • "and an energy source to power it all."


    My anus after HomeTown Buffet.


  • Discovered? Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Walkingshark ( 711886 ) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @03:20PM (#25631005) Homepage

    This is Robert Winglee's M2P2 [washington.edu]. He Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion. His original idea was to use it as an innovative type of solar sail, but it quickly became obvious that it could be used in the way that these people have stated. All in all, nothing to see here, already been done, and here in the US too. You might also enjoy checking out his page [washington.edu], the guy is a big time plasma nerd.

  • Considering some types of radiation are not affected or phased by solid materials, it would make sense that in order to deflect it you'd need to create some sort of EM interference, since the radiation exists somewhere in the EM spectrum.

    My question is when is someone going to try to patent it? It's a little too obvious to me, and I really have NO experience in the field, so I don't think the idea itself could be patented.

    Maybe the designs that accomplish the job, yes. But the idea itself? Let's hope one do

  • Now we just need a viable interstellar drive, and an energy source to power it all

    And a human race that can make contact with aliens without being considered a disposable threat.

    Seriously, if anyone's watching us out there, they must be real disappointed with us, and I'm not talking about those religious things.

  • we also need the total control of gravity.
    A trifle, to be sure.

Real Programmers don't write in PL/I. PL/I is for programmers who can't decide whether to write in COBOL or FORTRAN.