Podcast: Space Radiation
By: Astronomy Cast
There are four main types of radiation one can encounter:
Alpha particles: Protons. Blocked by the skin. Potentially dangerous if inhaled or consumed.
Beta particles: Electrons.
Gamma rays (and X Rays): Photons.
Charged nuclei: Galactic cosmic rays and solar events.
On earth we’re mostly safe from these because of our magnetic field and atmosphere but in space travel and the surface of other worlds they’re extremely dangerous. Astronauts on long flights have a much higher risk of cancer.
The Van Allen Belts that surround Earth contain a lot of these particles and are a risk to electronic equipment that passes through them.
Solar flares are extremely dangerous for unprotected humans and electronics. The Apollo missions were lucky that the Sun stayed quiet and didn’t release any major flares in our direction during them.
There are various ideas for shielding spacecraft (surrounding them with water or soil, or generating magnetic fields) but none are really feasible with current technology.
The best bet for explorers on other worlds is living underground.