How hostile is space?

Aug 06, 2014 by Ben Dryer, The Conversation
Not ideal to make music videos. Credit: NASA, CC BY

Space may seem calm, but it is a more hostile environment than that on Earth. Invisible radiation is a big problem for space enthusiasts and scientific instruments. Substituting electronic devices to do human tasks reduces risk, but it doesn't eliminate all risk.

Every active device in space is dealing with such risks right now – be it Rosetta the comet chaser or the satellite responsible for streaming live sports. These cause many problem for designers of space instruments, on which millions of taxpayer's money is spent and which are out there to collect important information and provide vital services.

Beyond the risk of colliding with other objects in space, there are four main dangers for such : the empty vacuum, extreme temperature variability, small meteorite impacts and .

The temperature variation in space can be enormous. If an astronaut's back is facing the sun and the front is not, the temperature difference can be as much as 275°F. The vacuum force in space is large too, which can cause any unsealed instruments to break apart. But both sensitivity to vacuum and temperature change are relatively easy to deal with, and can also be monitored with simple sensors on board the device.

Small meteorite impacts are hard to predict but remain rare. What causes the most damage is the the constant flux of radiation in the form of high energy particles. These particles cause to electronics, which causes them to become unreliable over time and eventually fail.

There are three main radiation sources in space. The first source consists of galactic particles, originating within the Milky Way, along with extra-galactic particles, originating beyond the Milky Way. These can be very high energy, for example the "Oh-My-God particle", which was a proton that had the energy equivalent to "a brick falling on your toe". The second source consists of solar particles, forming the solar wind, which are expelled by the sun and are lower energy but much more numerous. The third source consists of trapped particles, which form invisible belts around planets with a strong enough magnetic field, such as that of the Earth. These last two sources fluctuate with solar activity, which follows an 11-year cycle.

The effects of the most energetic particles are classified as "single event effects" (SEEs). These involve particles which are capable of causing the dreaded "blue screen of death".

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The damages can alter values stored in the memory and processors of digital devices, which can make them stop functioning at the most basic level. One way to deal with such damage is to use many memory cells to hold the same value, and compare values constantly to ensure that information only changes when an update is made to all memory cells at the same time.

The gradual accumulation of damage from high-energy particles on Charge-Coupled Devices (CCDs) (also found in digital cameras) are of more serious concern to scientists. The accuracy of the measurements needed to perform science is so great that any slight damage to these cameras can alter the data received from them.

You can see effects of this damage in a lot of the videos by astronaut Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station. In full screen and streaming at highest quality, you will find white spots in the darker areas of the picture. These are caused by radiation damage to the sensor, which allows signal to be created by the of the device, rather than the meaningful light particles which form the image.

Although shielding the components can give some effective prevention of radiation damaging the electronics, camera sensors always need an open path in order to take images. Shielding can also create secondary radiation when a damaging particle hits the shield, setting another particle loose.

Sometimes the entire spacecraft design can cause unexpected radiation effects. For example the Chandra X-Ray Observatory launched in 2002 had a design that allowed protons and ions to be focused onto the CCD sensors through grazing from the telescope mirrors. Worse still, these protons were of the precise energy needed to stop inside the charge carrying region of the device, depositing the majority of their energy there, and increasing the damage during transit through the Earth's .

Although we can heat the sensors in orbit to heal the damage, it is never completely repaired. New methods to deal with the damage are finally coming up with workable solutions. One involves a new type of sensor that captures images using the holes left behind by electrons to capture the image, instead of the electrons themselves. Another involves better processing of the images to counter the damage caused by radiation.

Understanding such damage is becoming more important as scientists need even more sensitive cameras to go in space. For example European Space Agency's (ESA) Euclid mission is trying to measure the presence of dark matter by detecting the slight change in the shape of galaxies.

Thanks to Albert Einstein's work, we know that light passing by heavy objects is bent ever so slightly. Dark matter is proposed to make up nearly quarter of all mass in the universe, so to find its presence, the Euclid mission will measure the bending caused by such matter to the light received from galaxies. The bending is so small that if radiation damage is not understood and dealt with, the damage could mask the effects Euclid is looking for.

Just like the Euclid mission, JUICE, another ESA mission due to launch 15 years from now, will spend seven years travelling to Jupiter, resulting in already heavily damaged sensors before science is even able to start. What makes matters worse is that Jupiter has trapped radiation belts of high energy electrons, creating an extremely harsh environment to perform science in. As we continue to develop deeper understanding of effects in sensors, we can extend the useful lifetime of missions and perform more accurate science.

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User comments : 34

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antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 06, 2014
Beyond the risk of colliding with other objects in space, there are four main dangers for such electronic devices: the empty vacuum, extreme temperature variability, small meteorite impacts and radiation damage.

Erm...how are small meteorite impacts "beyond the risk of colliding with other objects in space"?

Thanks to Albert Einstein's work, we know that light passing by heavy objects is bent ever so slightly.

To be pedantic: Ligh can only travel in straight lines. Space is curved. (If light could curve you'd get all kinds of problems with the math in a space that is not warped or where refraction indices don't change)
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2014
Space becomes less dangerous as we become more able to characterize the objects we encounter there. By weighing them sometimes.

"This activity measures the mass of a spiral galaxy, viewed edge-on, using the same procedure employed by astronomers. It is surprising how just a few measurements and the knowledge of a few fundamental laws of physics make it possible to weigh the largest and most distant objects in the Universe"
http://www.euhou....a-galaxy

-It's a good thing real scientists know at least a few of these very fundamental laws isn't it? Or at least where to find them on the internet.

Ahahhhahhhha.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Aug 06, 2014
You don't get it:

weighing: act of determining a force that leads to an acceleration
weight: the force mass exerts under a given acceleration

weighing (as in the exceprpt you posted): correct
"weight of a galaxy" (as in the other article): not correct

It's a good thing real scientists know at least a few of these very fundamental laws isn't it?

And it's good that some know science so that they can teach you (though 'teach' doesn't seem to coincide with 'listen' or 'understand' on your part). Go back to school.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2014
I do get the internet.

"The upshot is that the Milky Way weighs in at a "mere" 500 billion to 1000 billion times the mass of the sun—less than half as much as Reid's earlier estimate."

-The mass of a galaxy is routinely referred to as it's 'weight'. This is known as a 'convention'. Plenty of examples out there. And so from the original article

"Most of the weight of these galaxies is present in the form of invisible dark matter," says Yin-Zhe Ma, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, adding that Andromeda has almost twice as much dark matter as the Milky Way"

- the scientist uses the term correctly.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2014
Another example

"For the first time, scientists have been able to precisely measure the mass of the galaxy that contains our solar system.
Researchers have found that the Milky Way is approximately half the weight of a neighbouring galaxy - known as Andromeda - which has a similar structure to our own."

"The study, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, was carried out in collaboration with the University of British Colombia, Carnegie Mellon University and NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics."
http://www.ed.ac....y-300714

-Apologies?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Aug 06, 2014
A weight is measured in Newton. A mass is measured in Kilogram. That some people can't distinguish the two is not my problem. Weight is a force, mass is not.
Physics 101. It's different than 'colloquial english 101'

Just because there are other people out there who get it as wrong -as you do- doesn't mean it's right.

Apologies? Learn something? I bet you won't.

The difference between when you and I look up stuff is: I actually try to comprehend what I'm reading while you just copy-and-paste.

TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2014
Apologies? Learn something? I bet you won't.
Are you talking to me or to the physicists I cited, including krauss, who know how to use the word?
Physics 101. It's different than 'colloquial english 101'
I think they might take offense at your tone. I dare say that you might be insulting the entire faculties of the Royal Astronomical Society, the University of British Colombia, Carnegie Mellon University and NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics.

THEYRE the ones using the term thusly, not I sir.

"Researchers have found that the Milky Way is approximately half the weight of a neighbouring galaxy - known as Andromeda..."

Weight. Noun. Is how they are using it. You should revisit your defs to see where your error is.
The difference between when you and I look up stuff is: I actually try to comprehend what I'm reading
Yah but the thing is, you have to read it first. Try it again...

"the Milky Way is approximately half the weight"
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Aug 06, 2014
To be pedantic: Ligh can only travel in straight lines. Space is curved. (If light could curve you'd get all kinds of problems with the math in a space that is not warped or where refraction indices don't change)

So... when light travels straight, does it cut across curved space or does it travel straight along the space planar curve?
Lex Talonis
Aug 07, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
bluehigh
5 / 5 (4) Aug 07, 2014
Lex, the article is attributed to Ben Dryer. Rather than splatter your outrage here, you could make it count by email or telephone.

ben.dryer@open.ac.uk

+44 (0) 845 300 60 90

bluehigh
1 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2014
WG, you gonna upset AA and make him like frothing at the mouth with insolent but reasonable questions that smack of entrapment. Artists are supposed to be like emotionally loving and touchy feely - no?
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Aug 07, 2014
So... when light travels straight, does it cut across curved space or does it travel straight along the space planar curve?
@Whyde
Here is an answer that is right up your alley

Get a piece of blank white paper, a pen or pencil, a coffee can and a 12" rule (or larger)

take a pen or pencil and place the 12" rule on the paper, now draw a straight line over the paper from one end to another (this represents LIGHT)

now to represent gravity/lensing/etc

take paper and gently place it around the coffee can
now onto your question
does it cut across curved space or does it travel straight along the space planar curve?
the answer is in front of you

PEACE

bluehigh
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2014
That's a pathetic example, invalid on so many levels, barely even worth a second thought. As the saying goes - not even wrong.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Aug 07, 2014
So... when light travels straight, does it cut across curved space or does it travel straight along the space planar curve?

Light follows the shortest path in spacetime (which is defined as a 'straight' line). That a spacetime straight line may appear as bent in 3D space is not such a strethc of the imagination.

An easy way to show this is: If there was a shorter path between x and y than that which a directly aimed ray of light travels then you could cover the distance faster than the photon by taking that 'shortcut) (i.e. you could travel faster than light).
But no matter how you try (save for some potentially weird conditions like wormholes) that's not possible.

TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2014
Physics 101. Just because there are other people out there who get it as wrong -as you do- doesn't mean it's right
I am imagining aa lecturing Lawrence Krauss, the

"advocate of the public understanding of science, of public policy based on sound empirical data, of scientific skepticism and of science education... His primary contribution is to cosmology as one of the first physicists to suggest that most of the mass and energy of the universe resides in empty space, an idea now widely known as "dark energy"

-on how to use words to describe physics.

"Empty space weighs something. And most of the energy in the universe resides in empty space... Science changes what we mean by things all the time... We change the meaning of things that we thought of before... And it's even empty. There's not stuff in there. There's nothing. You can look for it and there's nothing there, but it weighs something." -Krauss

-The meaning of 'weight' must have changed while you weren't looking.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2014
BTW how many newtons do you weigh? Or is that too personal for you? Remember, according to Krauss, if your head was completely empty it would still weigh something. And function exactly the same as it does now.
antigoracle
2 / 5 (4) Aug 07, 2014
Hmmm.... not one mention of the Little Green Men.
They won't be happy about that.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2014
That's a pathetic example, invalid on so many levels, barely even worth a second thought. As the saying goes - not even wrong.
@blue

if you meant MY example... it wasn't MEANT for a physics student
NOR for a scientist

it was meant for an artist... AND it is designed to give him specific questions that are answered BUT also make him ask more cogent questions, which, COUPLED with what antialias_physorg is posting, should allow him to "SEE" the situation better

I just hope it worked.

@Whyde
did it help?


Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Aug 07, 2014
it was meant for an artist... AND it is designed to give him specific questions that are answered BUT also make him ask more cogent questions, which, COUPLED with what antialias_physorg is posting, should allow him to "SEE" the situation better

I just hope it worked.

@Whyde
did it help?

Yes, actually...
It helped me to visualize what we are seeing and the way we see it. Gravity well is the coffee can...
Give me a little time to work out some more interesting visualizations...;-)
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Aug 07, 2014
But, I'm still kinda scratchin' my head about the whole "Universe is flat" , "Spacetime is curved"
statements, tho...
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Aug 07, 2014
An easy way to show this is: If there was a shorter path between x and y than that which a directly aimed ray of light travels then you could cover the distance faster than the photon by taking that 'shortcut) (i.e. you could travel faster than light).
But no matter how you try (save for some potentially weird conditions like wormholes) that's not possible.

Oh, and... Thanks, AAP, for not "frothing". I hear rabies shots can be a bitch...:-)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Aug 08, 2014
Oh, and... Thanks, AAP, for not "frothing". I hear rabies shots can be a bitch...:-)

Why would I? It was a reasonable question and I tried to give a reasonable answer.

But, I'm still kinda scratchin' my head about the whole "Universe is flat" , "Spacetime is curved"
statements, tho...

The universe is globally flat. Space is locally curved (wherever there is something that has the effect like mass does).
You have to be a bit carefull about 'curved' and 'closed'. Those are tow different things. One is (local) geometry the other (global) topology. If there were a lot of mass throughout the universe that would affect global curvature significantly. As it stands it looks like this isn't the case (the universe looks pretty flat by all measures taken).
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2014
Oh, and... Thanks, AAP, for not "frothing". I hear rabies shots can be a bitch...:-)

Why would I? It was a reasonable question and I tried to give a reasonable answer.


Was just referring back to the comment made by Bluehigh.

But, I'm still kinda scratchin' my head about the whole "Universe is flat" , "Spacetime is curved"
statements, tho...

The universe is globally flat. Space is locally curved (wherever there is something that has the effect like mass does).
You have to be a bit carefull about 'curved' and 'closed'. Those are tow different things. One is (local) geometry the other (global) topology. If there were a lot of mass throughout the universe that would affect global curvature significantly. As it stands it looks like this isn't the case (the universe looks pretty flat by all measures taken).

Thanks for that explanation. Very clear.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2014
Thanks for that explanation. Very clear.
An even better one would be a link to comprehensive explanations by experts. Rather than ad libs by amateurs.
http://en.wikiped...universe

-In reading the link I assume aa first visited the site and then loosely transcribed the info. Pretty greasy.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Aug 08, 2014
Thanks for that explanation. Very clear.
An even better one would be a link to comprehensive explanations by experts. Rather than ad libs by amateurs.
http://en.wikiped...universe

-In reading the link I assume aa first visited the site and then loosely transcribed the info. Pretty greasy.

If that's the case I'll take it. Too busy and a short attention span, so I prefer a comprehensive "cliff note".
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2014
When you take 'it' you have no idea if the ad lib is accurate or comprehensive. Better to learn how to scan sources or do the research yourself.

If you check what aa posts you will find many mistakes. Like confusing weight and weigh in terms of celestial objects. And disregarding respected sources which clearly prove him wrong.

Happens a lot.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (2) Aug 08, 2014
If you check what aa posts you will find many mistakes. Like confusing weight and weigh in terms of celestial objects. And disregarding respected sources which clearly prove him wrong.
Otto, has it occur to you that it might just be a misunderstanding caused by the usage of different standards? http://www.engine...589.html
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2014
If you were following the discussion you would have seen the use of the word 'weight' in a quote by a physicist from the original article and understood that it was being used in a new way, to convey a new perspective. I furnished quotes from other prominent physicists to demonstrate this. And I provided a quote from Krauss above which explains this very succinctly (another nice word);

"Science changes what we mean by things all the time... We change the meaning of things that we thought of before..."

-Krauss wrote his latest book around the concept. You guys have just failed to keep up. This is why it is ESSENTIAL to rely on the internet for the very latest in info, and to quote it verbatim, so that info doesn't continue to be mangled with outdated and incomplete and misguided notions from 10-20 years ago.

The info is readily available and easy to quote. Why as lib? Why assume you are up-to-date and not check?

Hubris is another nice word.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (2) Aug 09, 2014
@Otto Dix
I would not make such a fuss about that; AA used the scientific definition, you used the common 'accepted' definition, so nobody was wrong. Open this link and go down to the 'Concise Encyclopedia'. http://www.merria...y/weight I tend to think that you guys were picking at each other for nothing.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2014
AA used the scientific definition, you used the common 'accepted' definition
I didnt use it. The physicist in the article used it. The physicists I cited used it. Krauss used it. AA took exception to all these, declaring them wrong which, obviously, theyre not.
Open this link and go down to the 'Concise Encyclopedia'
Google the quotes I provided. Read the context I found them in. Read 'A Universe From Nothing'
http://kickass.to...872.html

-Understand how defs evolve over time and how scientists use old terms in new ways to describe new things. I think its kind of silly to be trying to lecture scientists of this caliber on the proper usage of terms that they are intimately familiar with, dont you?

"Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix was a German painter and printmaker, noted for his ruthless and harshly realistic depictions of Weimar society and the brutality of war."

-Harsh reality. I like that.
phprof
not rated yet Aug 10, 2014
Then stop messing around with chemical rockets. Time to move on.
Protoplasmix
3 / 5 (2) Aug 11, 2014
-Harsh reality. I like that.

Some say it's not all that harsh: http://www.theoni...h-trends

It's true, the nice folks who write definitions and put dictionaries together – they're historians, not law givers. But physics has laws, so called by dedicated experts, brightest of the bright minded, because these laws come from things like truth, universality, verifiability, and are written in the maths of theories rather than in stone. Despite the weight of your examples, it's literally not possible to understand the gravity of the situation without knowing the difference between something's mass and weight. Philo :)
Stavanger
not rated yet Aug 11, 2014
Accordingly to Dead Space, very hostile.
Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (2) Aug 11, 2014
Captain Stumpy - time to throw out the knot line, the slide rule and the chicken gizzards and buy a fucking metric ruler....

Douche bag hippy.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2014
Despite the weight of your examples, it's literally not possible to understand the gravity of the situation without knowing the difference between something's mass and weight. Philo :)
Ahaaahaaaaa so youre saying that lawrence krauss doesnt know the difference between mass and weight? And that aa, who says we weigh ourselves in newtons, does??

Thats funny.

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