Outer Space: Even More Dangerous than Previously Believed

The obsession with the cosmos predates antiquity. Then, as in the many years intervening, the lack of light pollution made the night sky a densely packed smattering of stars, complimented by the cloudy smudge of our galaxy arcing overhead.  The sense of wonder this vista inspires is timeless, and the ongoing pursuit to better understand our origins slowly peels back the many layers of mystery surrounding our universe. Unlike our ancestors, the common knowledge of modern man is that space is a vast emptiness sparsely populated with stars and other celestial bodies. It’s easy to think of the vacuum of space as being entirely devoid of matter, but it’s actually pretty hard to find solitude even in the colossal stretches of openness spanning the most distant galaxies.

The seemingly empty vastness of outer space is misleading. In the deep reaches of the blackest patch of night sky, there still resides an average of about two hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter.  Research by Dr. William Edlestein of Johns Hopkins University indicates that this extremely thin cloud of hydrogen would prove deadly to interstellar travelers zipping along at high velocities.  Moving at 99.999998 percent of the speed of light would result in collisions with these stationary hydrogen atoms, each causing the transference of 7 teraelectronvolts worth of energy. This is the equivalent of getting blasted by the Large Hadron Collider at full power. Edelstein calculated that this barrage would result in 10,000 sieverts of radiation within a second. Exposure to more than six sieverts is a guaranteed death sentence for humans, so 10,000 would knock so many genes from your DNA that you’d instantly regress to primordial ooze. Electronics are just as vulnerable, and the inside of a space ship provides little protection. Edelstein tested the shielding offered by a 10 centimeter thick aluminum hull, and  it absorbed less than 1% of the particles shot into it. Travelers moving at only a fraction of the speed of light would still incur significant damage from these omnipresent hydrogen atoms over any extended duration. That’s in addition to the constant barrage from many other sources of cosmic radiation.

While this sounds dismal for the future of space flight, the concept of direct, point-to-point travel over long distances in space is well out of vogue. Mechanisms like wormholes or the membrane interactions predicted in M-theory are far more persuasive conduits for faster than light travel. It’s time to start thinking transdimensionally.


~ by Wil Finley on February 17, 2010.

2 Responses to “Outer Space: Even More Dangerous than Previously Believed”

  1. Pure poetry…

    Thanks for the invite on Facebook! Good to know you!

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